One day as Manjusri stood outside the gate, the Buddha called to him, “Manjusri, Manjusri, why do you not enter?”
Manjusri replied, “I do not see myself as outside. Why enter?”
— Zen Koan
He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!
— Edwin Markham, from the poem “Outwitted”
I suddenly thought, “Is there really that much difference between ‘them’ and ‘us’?”
I had always accepted the qualitative difference between the “saved” and the “unsaved.” Until that moment, it was as if I and my fellow-seminarians had been sitting in a “no-damnation” section of an otherwise “unsaved” restaurant. Then, in a flash, we were all just people.
— Robert M. Price, “Testimony Time,” Beyond Born Again
Were it true that a converted man as such is of an entirely different kind from a natural man, there surely ought to be some distinctive radiance. But notoriously there is no such radiance. Converted men as a class are indistinguishable from normal men.
By the very intensity of his fidelity to the paltry ideals with which an inferior intellect may inspire him, a saint can be even more objectionable and damnable than a superficial “carnal” man would be in the same situation.
— William James, “The Varieties of Religious Experience”
In the days of my youth, ministers depended on revivals to save souls and reform the world. The emotional sermons, the sad singing, the hysterical “Amens,” the hope of heaven, the fear of hell, caused many to lose what little sense they had. In this condition they flocked to the “mournerʼs bench”—asked for prayers of the faithful—had strange feelings, prayed, and wept and thought they had been “born again.” Then they would tell their experiences—how wicked they had been, how evil had been their thoughts, their desires, and how good they had suddenly become.
They used to tell the story of an old woman who, in telling her experience, said, “Before I was converted, before I gave my heart to God, I used to lie and steal, but now, thanks to the grace and blood of Jesus Christ, I have quit ʽem both, in a great measure.”
Well, while the cold winter lasted, while the snows fell, the revival went on, but when the winter was over, the boats moved in the harbor again, the wagons rolled, and business started again, most of the converts “backslid” and fell again into their old ways. But the next winter they were on hand again, read to be “born again.” They formed a kind of stock company, playing the same parts every winter and backsliding every spring.
I regard revivals as essentially barbaric. The fire that has to be blown all the time is a poor thing to get warm by. I think they do no good but much harm; they make innocent people think they are guilty, and very mean people think they are good.
— Robert Ingersoll, “Why I am An Agnostic”
I had what I consider a “spiritual epiphany” regarding “evangelicalism” in high school when a group of friends and I drove to an evangelistic rally and heard the preacher rail on and on against the evils of drinking, smoking, and other things. The evangelist was a spectacular showman and implored the audience to take heed, come forward, let go of any liquor bottles or packs of cigarettes in their possession, repent, and sin no more with Godʼs power. Each word of the evangelist blazed with the certainty that God would heal His peopleʼs sinful ways and a choir was singing with trumpets blaring and the audience grew very excited. My friends all deposited their packs of cigarettes on the growing pile in the center of the rally and prayed with the ushers and pleaded with me to do so as well for the good of my soul.
No sooner had the emotion-filled rally ended, no sooner had we traveled a few blocks in our car, than my friends bummed cigarettes off me.
— Dr. Charles Brewer, Professor of Psychology (as told to ETB 7/18/06)
An evangelical Christian once told me, “Only Jesus Christ can save man and restore him to his lost state of peace with God, himself and others.” Yeah, sure, and only new Pepsi can make you feel really happy, and only our brand is better than the competition, and only our country is the best country. It is truly amazing to me that people can utter such arrogant nonsense with no humor, no sense of how offensive they are to others, no doubt or trepidation, and no suspicion that they sound exactly like advertisers, con-men and other swindlers. It is really hard to understand such child-like prattling. If I were especially conceited about something (a state I try to avoid, but if I fell into it…), if for instance I decided I had the best garden or the handsomest face in Ireland, I would still retain enough common sense to suspect that I would sound like a conceited fool if I went around telling everybody those opinions. I would have enough tact left, I hope, to satisfy my conceit by dreaming that other people would notice on their own that my garden and/or my face were especially lovely. People who go around innocently and blithely announcing that they belong to the Master Race or the Best Country Club or have the One True Religion seem to have never gotten beyond the kindergarten level of ego-display. Do they have no modesty, no tact, no shame, no adult common sense at all? Do they have any suspicion how silly their conceit sounds to the majority of the nonwhite non-Christian men and women of the world? To me, they seem like little children wearing daddyʼs clothes and going around shouting, “Look how grown-up I am! Look at me, me, me!”
There are more amusing things than ego-games, conceit and one-upmanship. Really, there are. I suspect that people stay on that childish level because they have never discovered how interesting and exciting the adult world is.
If one must play ego-games, I still think it would be more polite, and more adult, to play them in the privacy of oneʼs head. In fact, despite my efforts to be a kind of Buddhist, I do relapse into such ego-games on occasion; but I have enough respect for human intelligence to keep such thoughts to myself. I donʼt go around announcing that I have painted the greatest painting of our time; I hope that people will notice that by themselves. Why do the people whose ego-games consist of day-dreaming about being part of the Master Race or the One True Religion not keep that precious secret to themselves, also, and wait for the rest of the human race to notice their blinding superiority?
— Robert Anton Wilson
There is an old story of a missionary trying to convert an Indian. The Indian made a little circle in the sand and said, “That is what the Indian knows.” Then he made another circle a little larger and said, “That is what missionary knows, but outside there the Indian knows just as much as missionary.”
— as told by Robert Ingersoll
There are only two kinds of people in the world, those who think thereʼs only two kinds of people in the world, and, all the rest.
Toleration was born of lengthy experience and reasoning, not divine revelation. Divine revelation taught men to both hate and love “with a vengeance.” So naturally, many Bible believers for centuries abundantly loved all “insiders” (or those whom they were hoping to lead “inside”), and viewed all “outsiders” with suspicion or derision.
One consequence of literally believing the Bible involves psychologically projecting what one knows is worst about oneself onto “outsiders,” (and blinding oneself to the existence of genuine goodness in “outsiders”). It also involves projecting what one knows is best about oneself onto “insiders” (and blinding oneself to the existence of evil in fellow “insiders”).
One biblical belief in particular creates and magnifies the force of such “projections.” Namely that, “Insiders are all going to heaven, while outsiders are all going to hell.” So there canʼt be anything essentially wrong with “us” (we are “born again,” we are “sanctified,” we are “baptized in the Holy Ghost,” we have the “correct faith,” we are the “elect” and so on), while there must be something essentially wrong with “them” (otherwise they would not be “eternally damned,” which they “obviously” are-just look at what they believe).
But, as Joseph Campbell pointed out concerning the growing human population and our increasingly fragile natural and political environments:
“We can no longer hold our loves at home and project our aggressions elsewhere; for on this spaceship Earth there is no ‘elsewhere’ any more. And no mythology that continues to speak or to teach of ‘elsewheres’ and ‘outsiders’ meets the requirements of this hour.”
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