Well a lot has happened since my last post. Unfortunately, I can’t use blogging as an excuse to not do homework or study for the SATs… Anyways, I’m back, and since Easter was just last weekend, I figured it was as good a time as any to discuss suffering (and peace).
Before continuing, I want to stress that I don’t intend for my posts to (necessarily) have any rhyme or reason. If I contradict myself or appear to evolve, it’s because I’m simply discussing new insights. For me, guides to “truth” are no longer static entities.
As I have discussed before, Christianity has a suffering problem. Many atheist writers have come up with sound logical arguments against God’s existence using the problem of evil. The larger theological problem, as I see it, is that Christian theologians have boxed themselves into a corner with God. Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God, described this issue in depth. In the west, God became a deity of philosophers. The ability to redefine God paved the way for Protestant theologians to proffer new images. The many denominations of Christianity today attest to the often unacknowledged malleability of God.
Perhaps, in an effort to solve this theological conundrum, Christianity could find value in two unlikely sources: Buddhism and Lacanian psychoanalysis. Buddhism is dedicated to overcoming suffering within a non-theistic framework. Achieving a state of peace and bliss, nirvana, involves release from ideas. The Christian God, as it is usually discussed, is an unsystematic medley of ideas and concepts. In discussing nirvana, Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh said:
“And that is why Nirvana is not something that you get in the future. Nirvana is the capacity of removing the wrong notions, wrong perceptions, which is the practice of freedom. Nirvana can be translated as freedom: freedom from views. And in Buddhism, all views are wrong views. When you get in touch with reality, you no longer have views. You have wisdom. You have a direct encounter with reality, and that is no longer called views.”
In a Christian context, FORGET EVERYTHING YOU WERE EVER TOLD ABOUT GOD! Or at the very least, don’t take symbolic language literally. Applying this Buddhist framework is truly radical, but it’s sound advice. Think about views and notions. They are individual and self-based, based in the ego. Our individual views are the foundations for our prejudices and biases, and thus cause our suffering. They prevent us from seeing in a pure light. And as Hanh has repeatedly emphasized, they serve as the justification for religious wars and deaths of countless people. Removing our views would open up our eyes and allow for us to interrelate in a less judgmental and selfish manner.
Now how can Jacques Lacan, a heterodox Freudian psychoanalyst, offer any help in solving Christianity’s theological problems? Lacan spoke of a three-part framework: the Real, the Symbolic, and the Imaginary. Contemporary theologian, Peter Rollins, has discussed this framework’s relation to God in some detail:
“We treat someone at the imaginary level when we see him or her as fundamentally like us. In other words, they are someone who we can admire, love, hate, be jealous of etc. This is relatively easy to understand as we’re broadly aware of the way we exist in competition, or solidarity, with those around us….
In traditional theological circles God operates more on the Symbolic level. Here God is not named as such, it is claimed that what we say about God reflects ourselves and that we must speak of God as “beyond being,” “ground of being,” or in some other way that avoids the idea of us “speaking of ourselves in a loud voice” (Karl Barth). It is claimed that there is an ineffable reality to God that cannot be penetrated; yet this impenetrable God exposes us to ourselves.”
In other words, the Imaginary is narcissistic and egotistical, while the Symbolic relates more to the customs and rules of a culture. At the Symbolic level, for Lacan, God is the Other, an illusory structure of existence that pervades our consciousness. Thus, as a societal structure, it is subject to change.
Yet similar to the Buddhist concept of nirvana, and release from ideas:
“The Real is a rupture. The Real cannot be imagined or symbolized, it does not occupy a place, and yet it takes place. The Real is a crack within our existing political, religious and cultural configurations, a resistance that prevents systems from claiming absolute knowledge. It is a destabilizing event that threatens to disrupt the balance maintained by our ideological commitments.”
Perhaps understood in this way, the experience of Christianity could be freeing and able to reduce suffering.