Sunday, June 24, 2007

Substitute Puppies

Lono's involvement in my spiritual education was mixed, in motivation and outcome. To get at the difference I will try to get at the difference I see between what religion should be, and what it appears to me to be to most everybody else.

There is a distinction between psyche and pneuma that meant something to the ancient pre-Christian Greeks, less to the Christians, and maybe more to me. Generally people translate them as soul and spirit respectively.

Christians say Jesus is all about saving our souls. But when it comes down to practice, there's very little food for the soul, just some meager wafers of unleavened bread and sips of wine, compared to the massive airlift of supplies for the spirit that Christianity provides. You could really get the idea that Christians are using "soul" as a synonym for "spirit".

In fact, when I raise this point with individual Christians, the one response I get most often is that the point makes no sense, "of course they're the same," they say. They say soul is just another word for spirit.

So I say to them, "Why don't you say Jesus saves spirits?" And they answer by telling me that "Jesus saves souls" is just an old phrase that's become set in the language. They could say "Jesus saves spirits" and mean the same thing, but they don't, because there's no difference anyway.

Well, to me there's a huge difference. To me souls and spirits are two different things, and my chief complaint about Christianity is that rather than saving souls it mangles them and leaves them for dead, in order to save spirits.

To illustrate the distinction between soul and spirit, I will use a very familiar common scenario, the Substitute Puppy scenario.

We have all had this happen to us or known someone who has. Let's say a boy of six, I'll call him "Bean", is given a puppy, let's call it "Bottom". Bean immediately adores Bottom because Bottom is so cute and cuddly. Bean feeds and waters Bottom every day for a month, and takes Bottom for walks, and tries to run and play with Bottom, even though Bottom has such very short pudgy legs so Bottom doesn't run so very well. Bottom rolls and stumbles more than runs.

But one terrible day, Bottom rolls and stumbles clear to the edge of the avenue and over the curb and into the avenue, and a double semi sweeps by and rolls over Bottom and the driver doesn't even feel a bump, and he keeps on driving and doesn't even know he hit anything until he stops for coffee in North Bend, and then he thinks by the looks of it that it might have been a squirrel, because the stain is too little to be anything else.

Bean, who actually witnesses Bottom's demise, cries his brains out. Bean brains, Bean tears, everywhere you look.

You know what's coming. I didn't call it the Substitute Puppy scenario for nothing. Dad, probably a Christian, goes right out, that very afternoon, and obtains a substitute puppy. He brings home another cute puppy, and announces proudly that he has solved the problem, here's the solution. He even suggests a name. "Why don't you call it Bottom Too?"

Bean needs only a split second to observe that Bottom Too is NOT Bottom. Bean, having already cried his brains out, is now crying out sensory organs, trachea, esophagus, and getting ready to cry up lungs, stomach, and guts. Let's skip further discussion of that and leave Bean to it, while we instead get back to our point.

Our point is that the substitute puppy is a solution for the spirit, not the soul. I call Christianity the Substitute Puppy religion, because Christianity seems to encourage these kinds of "solutions" more even than other doctrinary religions.

When Bean starts crying at the loss of Bottom, he's grieving. He doesn't have a problem with his soul. His soul is working, doing something souls do well, albeit slowly. He doesn't need a fix, he has a soul that will do the fix. He doesn't even have a problem with his spirit. His spirit is just getting out of the way, to let the soul do the emotional mending that's called for. Dad, however, doesn't see Bean's soul work as Bean. He sees the crying as Bean not being himself. He thinks Bean has to get back into his former spirit.

That's Christianity all the way. It's all about trying to get people into the "right" spirit. Fixing the spirit when it doesn't need fixing. It's worse than totally neglecting the soul, which, to begin with, especially in unbroken children, is a far better emotional doctor than any that Christians can come up with. What they do is worse because it interferes with the soul in such a way as to damage it.

Far from saving souls, the religion that Christians blame Jesus for founding actually destroys souls, so that Christians lose the ability to grieve effectively, among other things. They are only able to find substitutes for grieving. Whole cultures that have had their soul-based religions crushed and replaced with Christianity are now all about finding substitutes for all their losses, which are enormous, beginning with their former traditions.

The Evangelical Christians will say that all that's a good thing, so long as the substitute chosen is Jesus Christ. I say that's sick, and it dishonors Christ Himself to make Him out to be only the best substitute puppy in the shop.

So, getting back to Lono. Lono and Lani both suffered the same family loss, before they met me. The "younger brother" who died would have been close to both of them, whether he was a brother in our sense or not. Lani took it hard, and Lono, the Christian, wanted to fix Lani's spirit. Lani wouldn't accept Jesus, the universal substitute, so Lono had to settle for an alternate substitute. I was to be Lani's substitute puppy.

So Lono colluded with Lani's spiritual (I should be saying soulful, but spiritual is the word set in the language) adoption of me and allowed his education of me in Kahiko to go forward, in order that I help in a grieving process that didn't really need me. But Lono was still a Christian, so all of this was done with misgivings.

Ironically, Lani began to take me as a substitute puppy in much the same way that he might have taken Christ if he had accepted him. As more and more of my previous troubles with my parents came out, as they learned of my eidetic memory and my conviction that I was a replacement of the original me, he entertained the idea that I might be a kind of Kahiko messiah.

In 1952 Hawaiian Kahiko was held in low-esteem even by most natives. The few that still wanted to preserve the old religion and traditional ways had to mostly keep company in secret. As often happens in such situations, many of those holdouts clung to a dream that there would one day come a savior who would be able to restore the old ways to common practice, and maybe even drive the haole out at the same time.

Lani told me at one point he thought I could be that Hawaiian messiah. The fact that I was the white son of a white Army officer only made it seem more believable that I might have eventually, when I grew up, the real-world power needed to pull off the revolution. The fact that I seemed to him to take to the Kahiko as if I were born to it made Lani believe my changeling idea. His version of it was, the gods saw that Kahiko needed a savior, so they put one of their children in the body of a dying white boy whom they took up to heaven when his parents didn't want him.

The child of the gods (me!) would not only bring justice to the evil white parents, but he would also set the Hawaiian world back in its upright position.

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