Reading from Ronald L. Burr, “Selfless Ideals,” pp. 145-146, 148.
This sounds good to me:
Belief in supernatural miracles sucks dry the implicit wonder, the veiled
Nirvana, of the world as it is. Better to go with Schleiermacher: “To me,
all is miracle.” To join Ousspensky “in search of the miraculous” is
doubly pathetic: first, you will miss the real wonder here in the real,
natural world. Remember the question of the disciples to Jesus: “When will
the end come, and when will the repose of the dead be?” He answered them,
“What you expect has already come, but you do not recognize it. The
Kingdom of God is spread abroad upon the earth and men do not see it.”
Second, you will be wasting your time, waiting for Godot, aiming at a
Quixotic quest because there is no miraculous supernatural.
On the other hand, there is a thrill to the chase, even if it is a wild
goose chase. A delusion such as Pentecostalism or the New Age Movement may
be quite exciting, but one ought to know better. Best to slake that thirst
in admitted fantasy: literature, film, comic books.
As for the supposed state of being more enlightened than “this” being
imaginary, a snare and a delusion, there is the very real danger among
religious people of pernicious self-blindness. The person who thinks he
has been sanctified can no longer be honest with himself. He will still
act cruelly, selfishly, arrogantly, maybe more so than before. Only he
will disguise and dignify and euphemize his motives. Bigotry becomes “zeal
for the truth.”
The sanctified person cannot see that absolute truth corrupts absolutely.
There is no absolute truth, there is only the absolutizing of relative
truth. There is only the idolatrous elevation of the human word to the
status of the Word of God.
The sanctified person can screw you without missing a beat because he is
doing God’s will, and God’s goodness is defined as including arbitrary
acts of judgment, which the sanctified person thinks he is being righteous
Spare me the sanctified folks! Give me the admittedly mediocre, even the
honest sinners. I don’t mean to glorify the wicked, but at least you know
where you stand with them. They are real. To paraphrase Stokely
Carmichael, the sinner may be a snake, but the saint is a snake in the
grass. There is no miraculous righteousness available by a miracle of
sanctification or of enlightenment. There is only the hubris of those who
imagine themselves to have attained it.
Religions get their customers by a typical advertising gimmick: they
oversimplify things, boiling all your troubles down to one capital-P
Problem. Then they can offer their capital-S Solution. Like consolidating
all your bills. Many are taken in by this ploy. Sooner or later they find
out it doesn’t work that way.
There is one group of Christian books and teachers who promise a simple
solution: “Jesus is the answer.” Then there is a second set that caters to
the same audience, but a few years later on. These books and teachers wait
till the enthusiastic new saints have become frustrated and disappointed
with the empty promises of sanctification. In the short run, in the first
glow of enthusiasm one’s problems seem to have vanished, but as time goes
by, sanctification loses its luster, and one is only human after all. And
then you discover the books and teachers who deliver the bright good news
that Christians are poor slobs like everybody else! You needn’t blame
yourself for failing God or blame God for failing you. Whew! What a relief
to be able to admit it, and to get real. What a relief it seems to stop
kidding yourself and seek specific solutions to your problems. To stop
putting them off in the name of sanctification, which was supposed to wipe
them away but didn’t and couldn’t.
Bonhoeffer came to see that salvation was part of the problem, not part of
the solution. And what he came up with, a “religionless Christianity,” was
something like the Zen approach: Letters & Papers from Prison, pp.
And yet I begin to wonder if this renunciation of the miraculous and the
supernatural is itself a case of dignifying an ulterior motive by the use
of religious camouflage. Here is a scene from Woody Allen’s Manhattan (pp.
If we follow the more modest Zen approach of skepticism toward claims of
enlightenment and sanctification, are we just being too easy on ourselves?
Basically, I don’t think so, and here’s why. If we are no more than human,
i.e., not angels, neither are we less than human, i.e., not beasts to be
blown about by every lust and instinct.
Religions tell us that if we don’t delude ourselves with promises of
sanctification, miraculous righteousness, we will descend in the other
direction. Unless you pretend to be a saint you must act like a beast? As
if you have no excuse not to be Lex Luthor unless you imagine you are
Superman! I’m saying you’re just plain old Perry White. “Don’t call me
chief!” Moral error lies in both directions, up as well as down. Because
in both cases your actions will stem from self-deception. Get real.
The founder of est, a McDonald’s version of Zen, used to ask his seminar
customers, after the weekend intensive was over, “Did you get it?’ To
those who said, disappointedly, “No, I didn’t” Ehrhardt would say, “Then
you did get it, because there was nothing to get.” Is he right?
Robert M. Price
August 2, 1998
Copyright©2005 by Robert
Carolina Web Design