It’s so easy to firmly embrace black or white, right or wrong, belief or unbelief, progressive or conservative. The human mind seems to be naturally attracted to dualities. In my “Reality is shades of gray” post I quoted Diane Ackerman, who is addressing the question of whether nature or nurture explains our personalities.
Even to ask that question implies a dichotomy nature doesn’t pose. Only we pose it. It’s easier for our brain to handle alternatives, to divide every issue into extremes, which requires less brainwork to fathom and less time to evaluate…life rarely offers clear alternatives. Most of life sprawls on a continuum of possibilities, compromises, extenuating circumstances…most of anything falls between opposite poles, every idea or feeling includes gradations.Consider the reaction to my previous post, “Another RSSB initiate sees the light.” I liked what Howard had to say. He commented on both negative and positive sides of his chosen “religion” (Radha Soami Satsang Beas). He’s still involved with RSSB, whereas I’m not, but we look upon this organization similarly: grayly.
Over on the Radha Soami Studies discussion group, black and white was much more in evidence. Browsing the group’s messages, as I do most days, my eye lit upon the appealing title of the first reaction to my post: “Brian Hines hits one out of the park—must read!”
However, the very next commenter to that home run message said that the post made him ill. He urged that Gurinder Singh, the current leader of RSSB, should pull the plug on his guruship and, indeed, the entire organization. I haven’t read all of the other comments but they seem to be in the same vein: strikeout.
One person even said, “nausea was rising as I began to read the post. Skimming it a little further I had to quit.” Gosh, Howard and I seem to be health risks. Maybe I need to put an upfront warning on this blog: “Caution: reading these posts may cause illness or nausea.”
Nah. I’m not going to do that. I’d rather say: “Suggestion: read these posts with an open mind.” In my experience, it’s reading with a rigid preconceived point of view that causes mental indigestion. You barf on stuff that doesn’t mesh neatly with what’s already in your cranium.
Gray!!?? Waiter, I thought you only served black or white here. Take this back to the kitchen and bring me something that’s either “this” or “that.” My stomach is churning just looking at this mish-mash.
About seventeen years ago my first wife and I got divorced. It was difficult for us. Most divorces are. For quite a while all I could focus on was the bad feelings we had toward each other at the end of our eighteen year marriage.
Those who get divorced from a church or spiritual group after a longstanding marriage understandably tend to have the same reaction: there’s nothing good about that S.O.B. But eventually, especially after I got married again, I could look back on my first marriage with a clearer perspective.
We loved each other for many years. We had a daughter together. We supported each other through good times and bad times. Each of us struggled to keep the marriage together. We couldn’t, though. So we split up. Now each of us has found another partner and is happier than when we were married to each other.
In short (and in cliché), we moved on.
When you can’t see anything positive about an ex-spouse or an ex-church, you haven’t moved on. You’re not seeing that person or that organization clearly. Your negative feelings toward any positive mention of them/it—“illness,” “nausea”—are a symptom of excessive attachment to an entity that you claim to have detached from.
Yet you haven’t. You’re still mentally joined at the hip with your ex if you can’t read something partially positive about them without being emotionally jerked around. After being churched, there’s no necessity to be totally anti-church. You can pick and choose what you still like and dislike about the faith that you no longer have total faith in.
Lastly, I continue to be surprised by how nastily negative many disillusioned RSSB initiates are toward the group’s guru, Gurinder Singh. Howard seems to view him more positively than I do, yet I still have no trouble finding quite a few good things to say about Gurinder.
Maybe this is the difference between me and the guru-bashers: I don’t expect as much from him. Some RSSB devotees view the guru as God in human form, a perfect being. I never did, not really, though I tried to for a while. I certainly don’t see Gurinder as perfection personified now.
It wouldn’t surprise me if a driving instructor has a traffic accident. Or if a dance teacher trips and breaks a leg. Stuff happens. Nobody is perfect, even those with special expertise. I can accept that a guru doesn’t act spiritual all of the time. Gurinder Singh is a human, not a god.
Now, if the ads for a driving instructor said, “He’s the absolute best in the world! Never makes a mistake!” and he turned out to be at fault for rear-ending another car, I’d think, “Well, guess he isn’t perfect after all.” I’d still feel comfortable learning from him. I just wouldn’t ascribe qualities to him that evidently he doesn’t have.
So the strange thing is, those who criticize a guru (or other religious leader) for not living up to some standard of perfection often still expect him to act almost perfectly. For example, many in the Radha Soami Studies discussion group want Gurinder Singh to eat humble pie and admit openly that he isn’t the divine being that many disciples make him out to be.
Well, it never hurts to ask. Myself, I’d like George Bush to admit that he misled us about the supposed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Saddam’s ties to Al Qaeda. But I’m not going to hold my breath while I wait for him to do that. Bush is an imperfect president (to put it mildly).
And the way I see it, every guru, imam, pope, rabbi, priest, or whatever is similarly imperfect. To expect them to do the absolute right thing is to ascribe to them qualities that only a divine being would possess. It’s one thing to claim that the emperor has no clothes, yet quite another to demand a kingly proclamation: “I’m naked.”
I’m increasingly content with gray. Works for me. Yet if you are attracted to black or white, be my guest. I’m simply suggesting that you’re missing out on some interesting shades of reality.
Next day update: this morning I read the chapter on "Hatred" in Matthieu Ricard's Happiness, a Buddhist perspective on life. Here are some quotes that fit with the theme of this post:
Hatred exaggerates the faults of its object and ignores its good qualities...Our perception of being wronged or threatened leads us to focus exclusively on the negative aspects of a person or group. We fail to see people and events in the context of a much vaster web of interrelated causes and conditions.
...What can we do when we hate our brother, our colleague, or our ex-husband? They obsess us. We brood over their faces, their habits, and their quirks until they make us sick; our obsession relentlessly converts mundane aversion into persecution. I knew a man who turned red with anger at the slightest mention of the wife who had left him twenty years earlier.