God in the Gutter, Jesus in Disguise

Apparently, I’m having an ongoing conversation with Carl McColman.  He wrote a new post responding to my mention of Philip K. Dick’s “God in the gutter”.

From the Wilderness to Mount Tabor

[…]  Steele is a fan of author Philip K. Dick, and has presented me with this concept of “God in the gutter” which derive’s from Dick’s work. It reminds me of a book I read many years ago called In Search of God in the Sexual Underworld: A Mystical Journey. It’s been years since I read it and so my memory may be less than stellar here, but I recall the book as an honest look at the lives of pimps and prostitutes, strippers and drag queens, and others who typically are not shown much hospitality by “polite” religion. The “mystical” bit in the subtitle doesn’t refer to contemplation so much as to the reality of God’s presence even when God is hidden — and, heaven knows, there are plenty of layers of hiddenness in the sexual underworld. And of course, grace happens, even in the lives of those who have been rejected by the mainstream, and that was the point of this book. But I suppose when we’re talking about grace, we have to be careful here. We can say “Yes, God is present in the lives of sex workers” and it has a rather paternalistic and maybe even smugly superior ring to it: the unstated other half of that sentiment being: “… and as soon as they clean up their act, they’ll be welcome at our church.” Which is just about what the older brother of the prodigal son would say.  […]

And my response that I posted in the comments section of that post:

I’m reminded of various stories of God in disguise.  The moral of the story being we should treat every person even those we deem lowly because they may be more than their appearance.  Often in the story, the person who does good for the humble is rewarded, but reward isn’t the reason to good.

I prefer phrasing as PKD does with his “God in the gutter”.  There is nothing to be gained by realizing God is in the gutter besides the realization itself.  Seeing God is it’s own reward, but God often seems only glimpsed in our periphery.  The moment we try to grasp the divine it’s gone.  All the forms of religion can just end up as more idols to be falsely worshipped.

I see God at the edge of where moral judgements aren’t so clear.  For this reason, I sometimes think the Trickster is more helpful in understanding the divine.  Many stories of Jesus and other saviors show elements of the Trickster and I think that is a key to understanding the nature of the divine.  Scatalogical humor along with reversals are very common in Trickster stories.

However, in mainstream Christianity, the Trickster elements have been purged from Jesus and projected onto the Devil or else simply exclusded.  The Trickster stories tell us about suffering and ignorance, and so they touch very closely upon our everyday experience. 

Jesus doesn’t simply pull us up from our misery.  Jesus took physical form to meet us on our level.  In fact, some stories claim that Jesus went even further down and entered Hell.  Many saviors descend to the underworld.  If God would descend to Hell, he surely would be present amongst those exluded from “polite” society. 

Isn’t that one of the most central teachings of Jesus’ message?

I have many more thoughts I could add, but that will have to do for the moment.  This topic is something that both fascinates me and touches upon my personal experience.  Many authors I read focus on these kinds of ideas: Philip K. Dick, Carl Jung, William S. Burroughs, Quentin S. Crisp, Jacques Vallee, John Keel, George P. Hansen, Patrick Harpur, Thomas S. Hibbs, Eric G. Wilson.  Et Cetera.  I plan on writing more posts exploring all of this in more detail.

Let me end with a quote I came across recently:

There is a certain stage of hopelessness in which one’s utter insignificance becomes almost a form of redemption. The infinite darkness and silence of the universe come into alignment with your own soul, like something unlocking. The misery has not disappeared, but now the endless night is radiant.

 ~ Quentin S. Crisp, “Troubled Joe” from All God’s Angels, Beware!

The Website of Unknowing: further thoughts

A while back, I wrote a post about a Christian blog.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/11/21/intelligent-christian-blog-the-website-of-unknowing/

And that blogger wrote a post about my post.

http://anamchara.com/2009/12/03/aslan-may-not-be-tame-but-what-are-we-to-be/

Here are my comments so far on that post:

My use of the word ‘tame’ certainly wasn’t an insult by any means. It might not have been the best word to describe the writings in this blog. Words such as ‘tame’ and ‘wild’ are relative.

My own sense of spirituality is informed by some more ‘wild’ thinkers: Carl Jung, Robert Anton Wilson, Terrence McKenna, William S. Burroughs, and Philip K. Dick. I’m also fond of many ‘tame’ thinkers, but it’s hard to say who is ‘tame’. Is Ken Wilber ‘tame’? Is Jiddu Krishnamurti ‘tame’? Certainly, Rumi isn’t ‘tame’.

Mysticism seems to be one of the most central themes of McColman’s blog. And an interest that I share. Any mystic worth their salt probably isn’t ‘tame’. But outwardly a mystic may appear ‘tame’.

Partly what I meant in labelling McColman as tame is more about the subject matter of this blog. This blog seems to have a very clearly defined focus and McColman doesn’t seem to stray from it. My own mind wanders far and wide. The difference maybe simply be a difference of personality.

Some people see the purpose of religion (specifically religious practice) as a way of taming the individual (taming the senses, the desires, the will, or the mind), a way of training, of elevating, of directing human aspiration towards lofty ideals.

I understand that perspective, but it doesn’t overly appeal to my own sensibility. I’m more of a “God in the gutter” kind of guy. I’d probably be happier if I were more tame (i.e., disciplined and focused), but as it is that isn’t the way my life is. To me, spirituality feels more like a hunger that can’t be sated.

I have little doubt that “Wicks’ mature, grounded spirituality is better suited for the long haul than Crowder’s colorful but miracle-hungry vision.” Even so, it’s just not my way to be cautiously concerned about the long haul. Not every path is easy, but every person has to follow their own path where ever it leads.

 – – –

By the way, my mentioning “God in the gutter” (or “God in the garbage”) is a reference to the writings of Philip K. Dick. I highly recommend Gabriel Mckee’s book ‘Pink Beams of Light from the God in the Gutter’. This idea of Philip K. Dick’s is essentially the same as the theology of a hidden God. I wrote about it in a couple of blog posts.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/05/27/burroughs-pkd-and-ligotti/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/05/27/448/

However, the “God in the gutter” isn’t simply the idea of a hidden God. There is also an element of the Gnostic/Kabbalah notion of the divine fallen into the world. The divine, in this sense, isn’t tame, isn’t controllable. The divine is loose in the world and it’s probably to be found where ever you’re least likely to look for it.

This view of the divine reminds me of a vision of God Jung had as a child. It involved God sitting on a throne above a cathedral.

http://www.woodka.com/2008/07/16/carl-jung-and-the-cathedral/

There is something about the interplay between destruction and creation that intrigues me. To Philip K. Dick, God has to fall into the world in order to remake the world. It’s a fecund vision of transformation.

There is a feeling of danger and forbidenness in this portrayal of God. This God isn’t just love and light. Maybe there is even a connection to the Hindu portrayal of Kali dancing on Shiva’s corpse. Anyways, it’s a view that doesn’t easily fit into traditional/mainstream Christian doctrine.

 – – –

As I was considering my second response, I did a few websearches.  Here are some interesting things I found:

A nice article by Gabriel McKee

http://www.irosf.com/q/zine/article/10516

And a Wikipedia article that uses Philip K. Dick as an example

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theophany

Intelligent Christian Blog: The Website of Unknowing

Let me recommend a rather lovely blog.  It’s well written and the author seems well informed.  The blog in question is The Website of Unknowing and the author of it is Carl McColman.  He apparently is also an author of a number of books on religion.

Some things stood out to me about this blog and it’s author. 

McColman began as a Christian who became a Neopagan and who then later returned to Christianity via mysticism.  I also noticed he has some interest in Flannery O’Connor.  Mysticism and O’Connor together immediately make me think of my good friend Mike.

Beyond these interests, McColman demonstrates a fairly wide and intelligent selection of ideas and writers.  In particular, I was happy to see Ken Wilber mentioned rather prominently.  But he also blogs about a spectrum of Judeo-Christian writers and ideas from the traditional to the liberal (Teresa of Avila, Charism, C.S. Lewis , Philo’s Platonic allegorizing, Pagan Christianity).  And in one post he links to an article written by Harvey Cox.

I had the immediate sense of what kind of religious person McColman is.  In some ways, his religious interests, although wide, are a bit more tame than my own.  He apparently avoids political issues (at least in this blog) and I didn’t see him write about the fiction genres of horror and sf (which often relate to theological concerns such as with PKD).  But I did find quite interesting his post about the movie Where the Wild Things Are.  All in all, his blog has a Boomer sensibility about it.  It turns out he is a young Boomer at the age of 48 (according to the generational model of Strauss and Howe).

To me there is something simultaneously appealing and tame (in an inclusively politically correct way) about Boomer spirituality.  I grew up in a politically correct New Agey Christian church that attracted many lost Boomer souls seeking some form of religion they could tolerate.  However, McColman’s thinking has some meat to it.  He isn’t intellectually lazy and he is aware of the dangers of “boomeritis.”

I guess my reason for sharing this Christian blog is because I’ve butted heads with some Christian fundamentalists lately (and also an ideological atheist).  I just wanted to turn some attention towards a more moderate and informed view of religion.