To Live Freely: Part Eight

I am concluding the section of this study where I examine the ways that we set others upon false foundations and all the negative consequences that follow. I’ve considered individual cases thus far, but now I want to turn my scope broader. After all, one way to prove the invalidity of a proposition is to apply it on a universal scale and then see if it maintains its original appeal. With today’s post I will hold the philosophy of the “helpful lie” to this universally-applied metric and see what the result of it is.

Applied in Reverse)

Suppose a religion were to have as one of its tenets that all other religious persuasions ought to be suppressed or destroyed. Clearly things would not work out so well for the members of that same religion if everyone else adopted the same principle towards them! It is a self-destructive policy, because it cannot be applied in reverse without destroying the originator. On the other hand, a religion having a fundamental tenet that there should be religious freedom for all others would be itself benefited and protected if the same principle were applied back to it again.

So I say to the person that believes in using beneficial lies to protect other people, you would do well to consider how you would feel if this same principle was applied back towards yourself, and also universally to all other people. You might say that you are comfortable with people telling you the same sort of lies that you tell to others, but that isn’t a fair comparison. Your idea of what is okay to lie about is your own personal opinion, so to be consistent you would have to be accepting of other people using their own judgment as to what is appropriate to lie to you about. Also, you might feel you could trust the decisions of those who are equal to you in intelligence and morality, but that also isn’t a fair comparison. You are less intelligent and moral than some of those that you lie to, so you must consider how you would feel being at the mercy of those who are less intelligent and moral than you.

Does that sound like a comfortable proposition, being subjected to the false realities concocted by the basest and meanest of society, entirely according to their own opinion and judgment? I’m certain it does not!

When one supports themself in telling a “white lie,” they give all other people permission to do the same, and that’s really not a trend that ought to be being perpetuated. On the other hand, when one firmly decides to tell the truth, they revoke the right of all others to lie. If enough of us were to insist on truth-telling for ourselves, and renounce lying on the part of others, we would likely start to see a ripple of truthfulness throughout our society. Convictions, once held by enough people, influence even those who have not become totally committed to them. And even if we don’t reach the point of mass adoption, at least those who perpetuate honesty will be living in a accordance with a principle that is constructive, not destructive.

Lies Upon Lies)

But let us go back to this notion of lies being told at all levels of our society. I have already discussed in a previous post how a lie, by its definition, separates everyone that stands upon it from the ground level of life as it really is. Everyone who believes in the lie is now out on a ledge which might break under its own weight, particularly as more and more people take residence upon it.

And now, extend that with the realization that many people who are already founded upon a lie are also telling additional lies upon it. People are exponentially multiplying the confusion, carving out more and more from the true foundation, extending ledges out upon ledges, building their deceitful worlds without any knowledge of where the center of balance even is. At some point, we will have the straw that breaks society’s back, and all will crumble in violence and chaos.

And I’m not merely saying that from a theoretical perspective, I believe the notion is borne out by a simple examination of history. I feel that these compounded lies are the only way to explain such collective insanity as was seen at Auschwitz and the Gulag. The deceit might have seemed “harmless” enough at first, a simple mischaracterization of national pride or social inequity. But then that deluded premise was compounded with faulty reasoning for how to address the issue and aggressively expanded by the masses taking hold of the idea, until an entirely untenable reality was force upon millions, killing countless of innocents and eventually collapsing the entire experiment under its own weight.

The only system which is sure to be equal and fair to everyone, the only one that is sure to be founded on solid bedrock, is the one that stands firmly on the ground of the truth. That truth may be unpleasant, and without any simple solutions, but dealing with it directly is the only possible way to make genuine progress. All other strategies are temporary structures, at times very pretty, but all of them doomed to fall.

Do I Even Have an Addiction? -Part Five

I’ve spent this series having a pretend conversation with a person who is unsure about whether they have an addiction or not. I’ve approached the topic from different angles, providing an answer to to all of the responses I typically hear from such people. I believe that all these different angles can be grouped into two main categories, though, so let us review those.

In Denial)

At various times in these posts I have tried to hold a mirror up to all those that are in denial. I hope those that minimize or turn a blind eye to their weakness were able to face them more fully through this journey. I asked the person who thinks he can control his unhealthy indulgence to prove it by swearing it off entirely and seeing how it goes. I called out those who refuse to acknowledge the burdens they put on others. I invited all to take a full inventory of themselves, fearlessly tabulating their failures and flaws.

I personally believe that the majority of people have not stepped out of denial and honestly appraised their souls. And, in my experience, those that have not taken this critical step tend to put more evil into the world than good. By avoiding the hard questions, they are perpetuating burden and abuse upon everyone else, and they are the main driving force for the deterioration we see in society today.

Now I do realize that that is a very stern pronouncement to make, so let me follow it up by acknowledging the decades I spent being just such a person. I was in complete denial for years, and I certainly put substantial amounts of hurt and burden on other people as a result of it. I also admit that even after looking into the depths of my soul, I still have a tendency to flinch and turn away, to revert back to selfishness, to continue to cause harm to myself and others. What is more, this is the case with most, if not all, of those who have awakened to the reality of themselves. We have to repeatedly recognize our denial and return ourselves to a place of unflinching honesty in order to keep doing good.

Semantics and Society)

I have also considered those that do not necessarily deny the reality of their problems or the harm that they are causing, but who struggle to adopt the label of “addict” for various other reasons. They might feel that their behavior does not fit under the category of an addiction, even while admitting that it is compulsive, habitual, and destructive. To these people I suggested that it really doesn’t matter what they or anyone else calls that particular area of life. There is no need to debate whether it is to be referred to as a “problem area,” an “addiction,” or a “deadly sin.” There are members of my addiction group who introduce themselves as “I’m an addict,” others as “I struggle with unwanted behaviors,” and still others as “I’m a son of God.” It doesn’t matter that we use different terms and labels, just so long as we’re there to do the same work.

In this series I did push back on those who avoid admitting to their problems because of social pressures, though. Those who don’t want to be lumped with “addicts” tend to retain a sense that they are above the group. Anyone who is trying to admit that he is fundamentally flawed while still making distinctions between himself and the “other” fundamentally flawed people is in argument with himself. He is trying to hold onto his old us-vs-them worldview, while also realizing that “us” really aren’t any better than “them.”

In short, people in the “Semantics and Society” category need to break a few of their walls down. They need to accept the common humanity that encompasses us all, accept that all of us are broken, and talk about that brokenness without worrying about the labels attached to it.

On the Brink)

When I see someone teetering on the edge of joining our twelve-step group I feel a great excitement for them. They are lingering at the entrance, trying to let go of the old perspectives and agreements hold them back. They want to confess and surrender and throw themselves into an authentic way of life, but they need to cut ties with whatever lies still remain. There are only a few bonds left to sever, and if they manage it, then they are free to make the single most important choice of their entire life: the choice to live sincerely.

I do not think them petty because they struggle at the doorway. All of us who are in the room had to do that to some extent before we got through. Neither do I think that I can pull them in against their will. I can offer perspective and advice, but this is a choice that everyone has got to make on their own. Some of them choose to walk away, and there is nothing any of us can do to prevent that.

Here at my conclusion, I want to acknowledge that I have been blunt in these posts, but it is not because of any animosity towards those teetering on the edge. I merely wish to shine a bright light into whatever dark corners still remain for them. Clarity and honesty, even bluntness, are the best tools to combat any lingering self-deception.

If you have found yourself pacing at the doorway of recovery, but unable to pass through because you weren’t sure if you really had an addiction, then I hope this series has helped you to see the reality of the matter. I would love to welcome you into the community of the awakened as soon as you are ready to join us!

Do I Even Have an Addiction? -Part Four

Putting Evil in the World)

I’ve spent the last few posts speaking to those who recognize that part of their life is amiss, but who are reluctant to call their behavior an addiction. I’ve made the case that all of us need to strive for shameless authenticity, own our failings and admit where we need help.

I have also made the case that everyone is fundamentally flawed in one way or another. That is a claim that we immediately agree to when we hear it, but rarely do we consider the real weight of what those words mean. They mean we are going to hurt ourselves and also those around us. They mean that we are going to deny our better nature and live beneath our potential. They mean that we are going to actively put some evil out into the world.

Most of us are naturally flippant towards any serious accusation levied against us. Even if we agree that the complaint is valid, we’ll shrug our shoulders, say “no one’s perfect,” and quickly move past the issue. We don’t face the very real damage that is being done. We’re all genuinely screwing the world up around us, hurting each other in real and terrible ways, and virtually none of us own this fact. We just smile, shrug, say “no one’s perfect,” and keep our hearts sealed off.

Are you willing to start taking ownership for the evil you put into the world? Are you willing to face it with eyes wide open? Are you willing to hear the complaint of those that have been hurt without trying to justify or minimize your actions?

If your answer to the above is either “yes,” or even just “I want to be able to do that,” then you are ready to belong to the community of the awakened and striving.

A Community of Striving)

That community of the awakened and striving exists all throughout the world, intermingled with every culture and society. Its members live in broader organization, but often identify one another and coalesce together. Inside the churches is the subgroup of those who are truly faithful. Inside the non-profit charities is the coalition of those who are sincerely serving. Inside the government institution is the cabal of those who are genuinely trying to improve the world.

One place I have found where these awakened souls congregate is in the twelve-step programs scattered across the world. These communities are full of men and women who are willing to face the reality of the evil they are putting into the world and are seeking the help of a Higher Power to stop doing so. They come into this way of thinking because of their addictions, but then expand it to address all other forms of evil in their lives as well.

I have seen people drag their feet at the door to a twelve-step program because they weren’t sure whether their problems qualified as a full-on addiction or not. But we in the group aren’t going to be checking your “addiction credentials” at the door. There is no “group police” who are going to kick you out because you aren’t messed enough to be here. All that we ask is that you are sincere about facing your flaws and obtaining a life that is sober from your negative impulses. If you’re willing to do that work, then you are ready to join the crew.

Do I Even Have an Addiction? -Part Three

A Social Shame)

I’ve already talked about our tendency to minimize our addictions, and I have encouraged all to bring their full resolve to addressing these “minimal” issues, so that they may quickly ascertain how “minimal” they really are. At the end of my last post, I suggested that even if one discovers that their vices are not a matter of choice, but of compulsion, they might still be reluctant to call their situation an addiction.

There are a few reasons why this might be, let us first consider that the person might have an aversion to that label due to social pressure. Most of us are blind to just how much we are molded by the society around us, so our addict-in-denial probably doesn’t even recognize this factor in his life at first. Through introspection, he may realize that he has always heard of addicts in association with murderers, liars, the homeless, and thieves. He has considered anyone with that title to be hopeless, broken, and perverse. In short, he views the label “addict” prejudicially.

He might express a fear of how others will view him if he labels himself as an addict. He knows that the label is stigmatized, for he has held that same stigma, and he is terrified that others will assume all manner of perversions about him that are inaccurate. He, himself, remains suspicious of addicts as a whole. He views them as an unpredictable group, and he only meets with them while inwardly pinching his nose. Frankly he believes that he is better than them. Thus, he would rather find a term that tells gives people a more favorable view of his problems.

And while that may sound terrible and judgmental, it is a completely understandable place for one to begin their journey. So many of the very people in the twelve steps started in just the same way. We have all had many years to reinforce the stereotypes of what an “addict” is, and it is going to take some time for us to broaden our perspective. We have to learn to let go of our bias and see things with more honesty and nuance.

Not That Bad)

But ignorance and bias are not the only possible reasons why one might be averse to calling himself an addict. Another reason might be that our one genuinely doesn’t think his problem qualifies under the category of addiction. Most of us feel that only certain sorts of actions can belong to an addiction. And maybe this is accurate, and maybe it isn’t, really this is merely a matter of semantics.

Some, for example, feel that an addiction must involve some sort of foreign chemicals. Thus, they would say that one could not be addicted to overeating. Others say that it doesn’t have to be a chemical, but the taking in of some substance must be involved, which would rule out being addicted to pornography or gambling.

There are also many different opinions as to how afflicted one must be before their situation can be considered an addiction. There is a sense that there is a quota of suffering and senseless behavior that must be met before the addiction is official.

But frankly, in this case arguing semantics isn’t very meaningful. So long as one realizes when and where they are powerless over their behavior, and acknowledges that they need drastic changes and external help, then who cares what they call it?

I have my own issues that fall into this gray area. One of them is my seeming refusal to get to bed on time. Every day I tell myself that I’m going to, I know that I am going to suffer if I don’t, yet night after night I find myself making the same unhealthy choice to stay up too late. Does that really qualify as an addiction? Even by the most broad and inclusive definition of the term, it seems a bit of a stretch. But I don’t care. If someone decided to call this problem of mine an addiction, I would feel absolutely no need to correct them. My addictions and my compulsive negative behaviors still live under the same umbrella, and I still need to work on each of them in the same way. In all cases I need to identify my triggers, discover my underlying mental and emotional states, seek support from understanding friends, and surrender my failings to my Higher Power.

“Addiction” or “compulsive negative behavior?” It just doesn’t matter. That which we call a thorn, by any other name, would pierce just as painfully. So long as we are no longer in denial about our affliction and our powerlessness, we may call it whatever we will. If you feel reluctant about labeling yourself an addict, I would simply encourage you to consider what the reason for that is. Is it due to some social bias, or have you become hung up on semantics? In either case, can you set aside the periphery and deal with the problem honestly and wholeheartedly? Are you humble enough to get the help you need?

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 4:13-15

13 And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.

14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.

15 And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.

Cain’s proclamation of woe speaks to a very basic fear that lurks in all of us: the fear of ostracization, of being outcast from society, of being marked, of being known first and foremost as “the person that did that terrible thing,” of watching society happily continue along its way while we stand on the outside looking in.

I can only imagine how crushing a condemnation one must feel when sentenced to jail. I would expect that “unfit for society” and “a danger to others” are hard labels to take out of the mind, even after being released back into the wider world. Even after one is “reintegrated” do they actually feel so?

To be sure, our crimes against our fellowmen drive a very real rift between us, and murder is the most separating crime of all. Sooner or later, though, all of us would become ostracized from one another if not for grace and healing.

Optimism in a Falling World- Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-11, 2 Nephi 9:41

Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.
And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.

O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.

COMMENTARY

I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive
The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there
I’ve discussed the desire some have to see the world burn, to see the wicked made accountable for all that they have done wrong. To this sentiment come the verses I have quoted above. God will see to the matters of judgment and forgiveness on His own. We are governed by His law, judged by His eye, and doled out mercy or retribution at His discretion.
He employs no servant in the matter of gatekeeping. He doesn’t need or want our help in deciding who is worthy of heaven. Will some be saved and others damned? Surely. Does it matter to us one bit which they will be? Not at all.

Ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother remaineth in the greater sin
But of you it is required to forgive all men
The question of this study is how to not despair as the world embraces evil. It is about how we keep our faith in humanity and work with our brothers and sisters, rather than leave them to their fates. And I believe part of the answer is how we deal with the sins that humanity commits against us. Each of us is affected by the growth of evil in the world, each of us is hurt by the collective abuse of human selfishness.
And our faithlessness in humanity often stems from that initial hurt we received from society, that time when some worldly darkness first broke our innocence. We might know that we need to forgive individuals, but as recorded in these verses what about the requirement “to forgive all men?” If we’re ever to get our faith in humanity back we have to make our peace with the world at large. We have to forgive society first before we can help it.

The Way That Things Are- Acts 26:9-10, 12-14, Proverbs 21:2

I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.
Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.
And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.

COMMENTARY

I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus
Saul had convinced himself that the world ought to be a particular way. Having been thus convinced he felt very strongly about it. He was very energetic in his opinions, going to great lengths to enforce them upon the world. But no matter how hard he wanted the truth to be the way that he wanted it to be…it just wasn’t.

Why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes
As Saul came to learn, it frankly doesn’t matter how strongly we feel that the world should be a certain way. If it so happens that it isn’t that way then it just isn’t. All of us convince ourselves that what we believe is right in one way or another, and when the actual truths of the world do not align with our expectations we feel pierced, like an ox kicking against the pricks.
We often speak of our desire to “change the world.” Our choice of words here betrays our vain arrogance, because in truth we can do no such thing. We can change society and we can change physical constructs, but the world, nature, and the underlying systems that define the way things are? Never. The rules of heaven, of earth, and of the soul: these simply abide as they are. So yes, we may change society, but we often change it to be contrary to actual truth. And then we fight for what we want but we never get it, because the entire world seems set to frustrate us instead. We are kicking against the pricks and wonder why it hurts.

What Sort of Disciple Are You?- Personal Example

I spent two years of my life serving a mission in the Caribbean. It was a wonderful opportunity to see various countries and cultures, and be educated by the similarities and differences between them. One trend that stood out to me was how powerful of an influence one’s society could be.

For example, it was not uncommon to hear of individuals changing their religion after moving to another country. Hindus from Guyana might very well become Christians after moving out to the islands, to better fit in with those around them. Similarly, Christians from the islands might become Hindus after moving to Guyana.

I, myself, come from an environment where a single religion makes up the majority of the culture. Many that move here join the religion, and so long as one remains in this bubble it is far easier to maintain that faith. It is very easy to believe that we are the way that we are forever, that we would never embrace a different walk of life. But if you have never lived in a culture where you are a minority, then you do not realize how tempting it is to change yourself just to fit it in.

Our default tendency is to believe whatever we are surrounded by. It is possible to believe more deeply than this, but that requires conscious, intentional discipleship. Whatever your religion is, it may be helpful to ask yourself if you are that religion because it is convenient, or because you actually believe in it. For example, I am a Christian, but is that because I am surrounded by Christians, or do I really and truly believe that Christ is the only way to spiritual perfection. Do I really believe that his teachings will provide me peace and fulfillment that I cannot find in any other place? I do, but I had to do real work to obtain that belief.