Wednesday, February 20, 2008

#30. Ways of Being Religious

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The convergence of science and religion is especially clear when we look at studies done by the human sciences which deal with humanity's religious practices. The data come primarily from cultural anthropology and sociology. It's probably not surprising that four basic patterns are evidenced in global religious experience across all the denominations and religious traditions of the Earth; it makes sense in terms of our "quaternary consciousness," the Four-fold Mind I described in the previous post.

What may be surprising, however, is that there is no readily agreed-on definition of "religion" to use when we're looking at the various ways people are religious. ("Religion" is like the word "God." We all know what it means-- or think we do.) There are dozens of definitions of "religion" floating around.

But if we take the word in its broadest sense-- to mean "whatever is most deeply important to a person"-- then even the large number of modern people who don't want anything to do with traditional or institutionalized forms of religion do, in fact, exhibit the same four basic patterns of behavior and experience with regard to what matters most to them.

If you haven't read the previous post (#29) where I spelled out what I call the "ABCs of the four-fold mind," you might like to read it in connection with this one; they go together. In this present post and the one that follows I hope to share some thoughts about the significance for the healing of the Earth of the fact that our four-fold mind results in four ways of being religious.


Since even the most basic aspects of our physical existence --time, space and matter-- are usually understood in terms of fours (the four seasons, the four times of day, the four directions, for example), it really isn't surprising, as I've said, that because consciousness operates in four distinct ways, there are also four essentially different ways of being religious-- or as many prefer today, of being "spiritual."

But it's also important to understand the more traditional ways of being religious. If we can see the best of the past, we can better judge what's appropriate for our present transitional situation.

This post's title comes from a book I used when I taught college courses on the nature of religious experience back in the 1980s. It was Ways of Being Religious by Frederick J. Streng, then of Southern Methodist University. I had come across the book years earlier in a college book store, and when I saw it I knew instantly that it was important. I said to myself, "If I ever have a chance to teach a course about the nature of religion, this is the book I'd use." And that's what happened.

I don't think Frederick Streng ever mentioned that the four main ways of being religious as he described them are related to Jung's four functions of consciousness, but that they are clicked with me instantly, and I've been accumulating examples ever since.

Our four-fold mind seems to want to understand not just time and space and matter but everything in terms of fours. We're just not yet especially conscious of that fact. Or maybe we are, and we don't think it's especially important. I think it is.

As we move beyond scientific rationalism and religious dualism into the new Universe Story which contemporary science presents to us, the significance of the quaternary nature of the mind will become more obvious: it seems to be intrinsic to the perspectives of the New Cosmology. I hope to talk about those ideas in detail in future postings; this one offers some introductory ideas about the four traditional ways of being religious.


Being Religious via the SENSATION FUNCTION

Sensation is one of the mind's two perception activities; by it we see not the forest but the trees and it's primarily concerned with details in the here and now. The question Sensation asks about anything is "What's it for? How can we make use of it?" The energies of the Sensation function are especially oriented to those details which need attention in order to sustain life: with providing food, shelter, protection, whatever is needed so that life can continue. And its focus is not just details in a vague sense, but attention to all the details: not overlooking anything which might be important, not leaving out anything or anybody.

It makes good sense that on the Medicine Wheel the Sensation function is imaged by the Buffalo, the animal which provided food, shelter and tools for the Plains Indians, and that it is placed in the North and connected with the cold of winter and dark of midnight-- those harsh conditions where overlooking details even for a short time can quickly result in disaster.

Because of its focus on responsibility, people with a strong Sensation function are good in emergencies and are attracted to those kinds of jobs and tasks that involve immediate and close attention to details. Engineers and emergency room personnel are good examples.

The brain locus of the Sensation function is the Frontal lobe, which is concerned not only with focusing attention and concentration but also with muscle activity, so people with a strong Sensation function can also become good musicians and good athletes: they find it easy to keep in physical motion for long periods of time and don't quickly get bored with repetitive practice.


Frederick Streng called being religious by the Sensation function "the way of cosmic harmony." It's a way of service to others, taking care of people in need, "helping out" simply because that's the right thing to do. Drug rehabs, food banks, houses of hospitality and soup kitchens are staffed by people for whom such social action is their way of being in harmony with the way things are meant to be. Volunteers of all kinds express what's important to them in this way, and perhaps the most common expression of "doing what should be done" is the effort made by parents to take good care of their children.

Even though many would not often describe their motivation in this way, people who are religious primarily by the Sensation function tend to see God "in every hand and face." Martin Luther said, "Ever, ever, goes the Christ in stranger's guise." Mother Teresa describes a leper dying in the streets as "Jesus in a distressing form." As a way of being religious, Sensation takes literally the gospel's words, "A cup of cold water given in my name is given to me." People who are religious-spiritual in this way see life as a work of service for the common good "on behalf of all and for all," in the words of the Byzantine liturgy.

Bearing witness, in the sense of taking a stand against a hostile and indifferent world, is also part of this way of being religious. Today, we can see much better than in the past that such work includes service not only to human beings who are in need, but also to animals and plants and to the Earth itself. In our day, ecological concerns take their place right next to work for social justice, peace and equality. Thanks to the Sensation function, we're coming to see in the modern evolutionary context that concern for the Earth and concern for the Earth's peoples are one.


Being Religious via the THINKING FUNCTION

The Thinking function is not a perception activity but an evaluative action: it is the conscious mind judging whether what we believe to be true conforms to the facts as we know them (or think we know them). The Thinking function looks at everything with a certain objectivity and from a distance; it's always dividing, separating, making logical distinctions, always seeking clarity and asking "Is it true?"

On the Medicine Wheel the place of the Thinking function is the East, where it is connected with the rising sun, the spring of the year, and imaged as the Gold Eagle flying high in the sky at dawn. Its element is wind and air.

In many cultures, the same word is used for wind, air and our life-breath. The cross-cultural list is impressive: akasa in Sanskrit, chi in Chinese, prana in Hindi, vayu in ancient Persian, woniya in Lakota, ruah in Hebrew, pneuma in Greek, spiritus in Latin. All of these words have the same basic meaning: the dynamic and life-giving energy of the universe which is around us and within us, permeating, creating and nurturing the growth and development of every human individual and of all things.

Not surprisingly, Thinking is associated with the Temporal lobe of the brain, the area connected with language, math and conceptual thinking. Because its time-focus is neither past nor present nor future but the sequential flow of time, the Thinking function is especially concerned with differentiation and uniqueness. Persons with a strong Thinking function are commonly oriented to the inner venture of finding the true Self-- with that process which depth psychology calls individuation and which, as I've spelled out in several previous blog entries, Biogenetic Structuralism names ontogenesis.

Because of its focus on time's movement and flow, the Thinking function readily embraces the evolutionary world view of modern science. It's also because of this emphasis on sequence and flow that we often identify the Thinking function with logic, but obviously the Thinking includes a lot more than logic's sequential reasoning. The Thinking function has been wonderfully described by the artist-psychologist Steven Gallegos as the psyche "searching relentlessly for wholeness and the 'not yet'."


It's that "relentless searching" which explains why being religious via the Thinking function is a question of effort: the discipline needed to become all that we are called to be.

The classical term for this effort is asceticism. In Greek, an ascetic is a trainer or someone in training with a trainer. Today's gyms are filled with modern secular ascetics; they also jog daily through our streets.

A key religious trait here is doing what's difficult: practices like fasting, being celibate, going without comfortable clothing, living without comfortable companions, following unconventional dietary laws. Such practices are known in almost every religious tradition. In a dualistic context, ascetic abuses abound and I've no doubt every reader can give examples from their own background of such abusive practices being imposed on them.

But the most fundamental ascetic practice isn't something negative; it is simply being attentive. Every religious tradition (and that's "religion" in the broadest sense: "what's important to us") has exhortations such as "Be aware." "Pay attention." "Be sober and watchful." "Stay awake!" "Keep vigil." "Let us attend." "Be mindful." "Wake up and smell the coffee."

The heart of the Thinking function's way of being religious is the willingness to courageously follow that inner generative drive for enterprise and exploration which such persons experience.

In this context, "God" tends to be understood as transcendent-only (distance and apart, just like the Thinking function itself), but in whatever forms a religious tradition expresses its sense of the divine, that ultimate cosmic spiritus is also recognized as having a major guiding aspect. It guides us-- to become who-and-what we feel called to be-- by our genes, cultural background, personality type and the circumstances of our lives.

This divine guidance is also recognized in many traditions as having a trickster component, where it's understood that the generative guidance of the universe often comes to us via boredom or suffering. Most religious traditions recognize our need to face evil, death and tragedy as aspects of the cosmic flow, and that learning to accept one's vulnerability is in fact an aspect of being "befriended" by the divine trickster-guide.

It's for this reason that courage is usually a strong value for the Thinking function, the courage to be creative, to do everything, to go everywhere, to try every new thing, to leave nothing unexplored: to becoming all that we can be in response to "the will of God" for us. It's also for this reason that being religious by the Thinking function obviously has major significance for the New Universe Story provided by contemporary science and the New Cosmology.


Being Religious via the FEELING FUNCTION

Like the Thinking function, Feeling is a judgment activity, but the energy of Feeling is in total contrast to that of Thinking. The Feeling function's emphasis is not on distancing but on relating: not on separateness but togetherness, not on isolation but belonging. Its primary orientation is to the warmth of participation, the experience of closeness, the simple delight in being part of it all.

The evaluation which Feeling makes is not concerned with whether a perception is accurate but whether what we think we are perceiving is valuable. Does it help or hinder life? Feeling's question is not "Is it true?" but "Is it friend or foe?" (And, if it's not dangerous, "Do I like it?")

On the Medicine Wheel, Feeling is located in the South where its Native American animal is the Green Mouse. Its element is fire, its season summer, and its time of day noon-- all images of warmth and connectedness. Its time-focus is the past.

Like a mouse that has to jump to see the distant mountains, Feeling is very close to the earth. And like all rodents, it's a pack-rat: the Feeling function tries to save everything. It doesn't want to part with anything, and for that reason persons with a strong Feeling function have a tough time letting go of things.

Because the Feeling function's focus on the past is the literal opposite of the Thinking function's concern for the flow of time, people with a strong Feeling function also tend to be conservatives, whether religiously or politically or both. The biblical prophets are a good example of the political-religious combination; their main historical role wasn't predicting the future, as is sometimes thought, but reminding the people of the past: " You have betrayed the past. You have gone against the agreement (covenant) with the Lord. Return to the right path!"

Feeling is associated with the brain's Parietal lobe, which has to do not with time but with space and the body's orientation in space. Again, we can see that what the Feeling function is all about is how we are related and connected with whatever is not our self, with what in previous posts I've called "the Other Half of Person."


The Feeling Function's primary way of being religious is devotional activity. "Devotion" just means doing whatever connects us with what's important to us. It's a familiar idea: if we're devoted to Monday night football, we watch "the game" every Monday night-- "religiously." The fact that devotional activities are also "symbols" in the literal sense is a less familiar idea, but "symbols" are simply things which connect us with what's important to us.

The Feeling function almost always pictures what's important to us in personal terms: God is frequently imaged as a protective Father or a caring Mother, for example, but also as Lover, Spouse, Sibling, Friend. Streng's name for this way of being religious was "The way of the Holy Presence."

Because the key idea here is relatedness, for the Feeling function, the divine is not transcendent but immediately present: "God with us." And being religious by the Feeling function is always social and down to earth: it's always about connecting with others and relating to things, whether in terms of sexual love, friendship, or cosmic love for All. It's always about, as Native Americans say often in prayers and speeches, "All my relations!"

A common devotional action in many traditions is placing flowers in front of a sacred image-- of Mary or Buddha, for example-- just as we place flowers on our mother's grave. But anything done out of love, anything done to express a strong and positive relationship, would fit this category, such as saying long prayers or doing little acts of kindness. Examples are innumerable. Russian peasants used to do summersaults in front of their holy icons. Therese of Lesieux talks about picking up a piece of thread from a rug as an act of love for God. A woman in one of my classes once offered a delightful example of a devotional activity when she told us about how, simply out of love for him, she enjoyed ironing her husband's jockey shorts.

Steven Gallegos, the artist-psychologist I mentioned earlier, describes the awareness of the Feeling function as a consciousness of movement: a sense of "what's happening." And many modern thinkers talk about the "Immense Transition" we're currently experiencing as a turn toward episteme, by which they mean the western world's slowing dawning awareness that participation and connectedness are essential aspects of the human condition. Obviously the Feeling function's consciousness of our relatedness with all things is also a major component of the New Story of modern science.


Being Religious via the INTUITION FUNCTION

Intuition is the perception function by which we see the forest rather than trees. As the opposite of Sensation, it allows us to see not the bits and pieces of anything but the big picture. It allows us to envision the whole of any situation, even of all reality. People with a strong Intuition function are not uncomfortable with words like "awe," "wonder" and "reverence" to describe their experience of the wholeness and sacredness of life.

On the Medicine Wheel, Intuition is located in the West where it is associated with the autumn season and with the fluidity of its element, water. It is especially well-imaged by the diffuse vision we have of our surroundings during the evening twilight. Because its time-orientation is the future, it is especially concerned with healing and wholeness, for what we can become at our very best. It's for this reason that Intuition is imaged by the Black Bear, the "medicine animal" who, with its unique claws, is able to dig up the healing roots and herbs offered by the Earth.

In contrast to Sensation, which asks what something can be used for, Intuition asks "What does it mean?" While its focus is the meaning and significance of everything, its intention is just as practical as that of the Sensation function: it wants to know about the why of things. It is concerned with ultimate causes and the ultimate values. Needless to say, the rationalist mind of Western culture has an especially difficult time understanding this way of being religious.


The primary emphasis in being religious via the Intuition function is myth and ritual. Here, archetypal symbols and sacred stories are recognized as the language by which we enter into the deepest meaning of our existence, the tools by which we can become all that we can be.

So far, I've mentioned ritual in probably half of all my postings, and I focused on it in #26 (Help From Uncle Louie), where I described important ideas about ritual presented by Thomas Merton in a major essay written a few years before his death in the 1960s.

Merton was on the growing edge of contemporary religion and he looked at the religious elements in world literature in exactly the same way that anthropologists look at rites and ceremonies in world cultures. He describes, for example, the creative power of myth and ritual this way: it can bring us into "living participation with an experience of basic and universal human values." And with regard to their therapeutic effects, he notes that myth and ritual can enable us to "a more real evaluation of ourselves, a change of heart," and that thus it can bring us to "an awareness of our place in the scheme of things."

It was my own life-long interest in ritual which originally lead me to discover the "Anthropology Plus" of Biogenetic Structuralism. I'm especially interested in how ritual works-- specifically with regard to those transformational aspects that Merton describes-- in two senses: in terms of the workings of the brain and also with regard to what needs to be done in practical terms to insure that our rituals work well. I hope to spell out some of those thoughts in future posts.

C. G. Jung says Intuition is a direct pipeline to the unconscious. He describes it as the capacity to be in touch with the good energies of the earth-- especially in the form of animal powers and spirit ancestors, who are, as Native Americans say, "out there, wanting to help us." It also includes the shamanic power to “call in” those spirit-powers and archetypal energies of the universe, to make them available to all for our health, healing and wholeness. In surviving pre-patriarchal cultures, this way of being religious is so basic to human life that most of those cultural groups don't even have a name for it.

In western culture, for the last thousand years the classical form of this way of being religious has, to a great extent, been confined to monastic cloisters. In contrast, in Asian cultures the age-old meditative practices of this way of being religious are available to all.

In recent centuries, this way of being religious has also come to be known as "mystical" and the word has taken on strong negative connotations of magic and irrationality. But "mystical" just means "hard to put into words." Religious experience via the Intuition function is like tasting food and hearing music: it's not irrational or less real because it's non-verbal.


I realize that there are too many ideas here to be mentally digested easily. But I think they are worth all the time and energy we can give them.

Jung called Intuition "the religious function." He recognized it as the beginning and the end of all spirituality: religion's alpha and omega. But while it's obvious that being religious via the Intuitive function is the most neglected and least understood form of religious experience in contemporary society, it's also important to keep in mind that just as all four functions of consciousness are needed for our personal wholeness, as I stressed in the previous post, so too all four ways of being religious are needed for a contemporary healing of the Earth.

If we are going to move beyond the failures of religious dualism and patriarchal rationalism, these are the basic tools that will help us do it.

1 comment:

Sam said...

While trying to eliminate numerous spam comments, I inadvertently deleted all comments at the END of the posts up until #90. BUT... they are still preserved in the collections of comments found in posts #32, #67 and #83.

One set of comments, however-- for posts #84 to #89-- has been completely lost. If you happen to have copied any of them, I'd much appreciate your sending a copy to me so I can restore them. Thanks.