Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More on Augustine

I agree that my little biographical essay on Augustine does put him in a rather positive light, and that is because I originally wrote it as a sermon on his feast day and I usually try to be positive during sermons. Yeah, I have problems with the idea of "original sin". Augustine was a grumpy sort of guy, and I agree with Paul that the way he treated his mistress was terrible, and I agree with John that when reading Augustine one is often tempted to say "Lighten up!" But I think that compared to the Party of Donatus and the Pelagians, people who saw their opponents as less than pure and too weak to live sinless lives, our man Auggie was the life of the party.

The thing about Augustine which really intrigues me is that Manichee period because that experience really seemed to influence his spirituality and the fierceness he showed towards his opponents. To me the Manichees are similar to the Cults of the 1970's. Most of us of a Certain Age remember the Hare Krishnas (ISKON) and the Moonies. I, too, belonged to a Cult in those days; I was a member of Divine Light Mission, a psuedo-Hindu meditation group with the 16 year-old Perfect Master, Balyogeshwar, also known as Guru Maharaj-ji. Like the Manichees, there were different levels of involvement. Some folks received "Knowledge" (as the meditation techniques were called) and went on with their lives; others gave up everything and entered the Ashram, living a monastic lifestyle. Then there were the folks like me who were into the whole thing but weren't ready to live in the Ashram. I did give lots of money to the organization, I went to Satsang almost every night, and I always dropped everything to go see Guru at some festival somewhere. I couldn't keep a decent job as I would leave for a week or so when Guru called.

I really think that people like myself and Augustine are attracted to such groups (usually at the age of eighteen) because the group appears to be much more serious about the faith than everyone around them. As Peter Brown says in his biography of Augustine, the Manichees were the Bolsheviks of the fourth century. They were severely thin people; they were vegetarians and the only vegetables they would eat were those "with light" such as cucumbers and zucchini. I had abandoned Christianity because I grew up with Evangelicals and Pentecostals and was always shocked by the hypocrisy I saw around me, especially the religious-right attitude which was coming up. Guru Maharaj-ji and Divine Light Mission gave me the chance to get in on the ground-floor of a new religion (we were told that Maharaj-ji was the latest Incarnation of God; what a deal!) and we were going to do things right. But the thing that is really appealing is the same thing which makes Gnosticism attractive, the idea that this group knows the Truth and have that secret knowledge which the regular slobs aren't smart enough or holy enough or pure enough to even comprehend. That spiritual pride, in my opinion, also fuels Donatism, Pelagianism, Pentecostalism and Calvinism and I have also noticed such tendencies amongst the CANAnites and their ilk.

When Augustine realized that the Manichees were wrong, he dropped them, although the fact that he had been a Hearer would haunt him the rest of his life and would be used against him by his opponents. When I couldn't take the spiritual abuse of DLM any longer I dropped them cold. I decided that all spiritual paths were nonsense and was atheist for a while. I believe that Augustine was so fierce with the Manichees, Donatists and Pelagians because he was truly concerned that people would be led astray and he would do whatever it took to keep people from those who denied the power of the Holy Spirit. But it did make him a bit of a jerk. My jerkiness comes out when I hear New Age stuff; I really want to smack people when I hear that crap, and my Cult-Radar tends to go on full when I'm around Cursillo and Alpha types because their use of "buzzwords" and all remind me of DLM. I had a pleasant experience with Cursillo and have even participated as a Spiritual Director on weekends, but I gotta tell you, when someone says "De Colores" I shiver and have to hold my tongue. But I guess that's why I sympathise with Augustine. I admire him because I believe he was offended by the spiritual elitism of the heretical groups of his day, and he was sincere in his desire that everyone experience the truth of the Good News.

I think I'm rambling...

If you really want to read about a jerk, try reading about Cyril of Alexandria; a great Trinitarian Theologian but a terrible, mean, nasty person!


Grandmère Mimi said...

Padre Mickey, what ramblings! I truly enjoyed this bit of your spiritual biography. When does the big book of "Confessions" come out?

Having had the pentecostal and Divine Light experiences brings a richness to your ministry as a Christian priest. You see spiritual crap for what it is.

You know, during Lent last year, I endured the Alpha course, and I stayed angry throughout the six weeks. No edification for me there, and I probably ruined it for a couple of others. Never again.

The oversimplification of what the Christian life is about and the slick production turned me off, off, off. The camera pans to the folks with rapt expressions, apparently clinging to Nicky Gumble's every word were too much. If anyone there was looking bored or fidgety, you can be sure that they did not appear on camera.

At one point, after we had been led in the "Jesus, come into my heart" prayer for the third time, I asked, after the prayer, "Well, is the third time the charm? Is Jesus in my heart now, or will I have to pray the prayer again?"

I didn't mean to do a rant, but that's what the mention of Alpha does to me.

Ed said...

Having had the pentecostal and Divine Light experiences brings a richness to your ministry as a Christian priest. You see spiritual crap for what it is.

Our Mimi does have a way with words. But I completely agree. I loved both posts, which were very enlightening to this poor wandering Presbyterian. The personal stories are particularly compelling, and I thank you for them.

FranIAm said...

Well I for one(well clearly not just one!) enjoyed both posts immensely Padre.

Frankly I am moved to hear more of your journey and it underscores what I perceive as the depth of, the playfulness of and the authenticity of your spirituality.

As Ed says- personal stories are compelling. I thank you for sharing yours.

Pax mi Padre!

trueanglican said...

One of my great experiences as a religion reporter for a major newspaper was covering the Guru Maharaj-ji's Millennium Hooha at the Houston Astrodome. Supposedly the spiritual power generated at this gathering would lift the Astrodome skyward from its foundation's. I watched pretty closely but didn't see it happen.

I found the Guru charming and innocent, some of the swamis surrounding him (who appeared in reality to be running the organization) sinister in the extreme, and almost all the followers delightful.

One of my favorite interviews was with a youth who stank of garlic. Someone had advised him that eating a head of raw garlic a day would purify his blood. He told me he had been up in an apple tree in Paonia, Colorado, picking apples when he had a vision. He wasn't sure whether the person in the vision was Jesus or the Guru.

Covering both bets, he arranged first to be baptized in the Gunnison River (in January yet!). "That must have been electrifying," I commented. He agreed.

And then he traveled to Houston for the Millennium elevation. Whether or not he saw the Astrodome rise I don't know.

I believe that a few years later the DLM split with the Guru's mother taking charge of one segment.

Padre Mickey, your gospel insights are surely richer from your onetime ties to the Divine Light Mission. Their loss is our gain.

Matty Boy said...

Your reasons for joining the DLM, to get away from hypocrisy and less than committed spiritual folk, sound like the reasons other folks joined the Unification Church lo those many years ago. That can't be true of every last member, or they wouldn't quite so eager to break financial laws in ways that can only be called stealing, but it explains the motivation of membership in what the general public calls cults better than I have heard it discussed before.

Thanks, Padre!

Paul said...

Padrecito, I thank you for both postings. Wonderful nourishment for the cyberflock.

Your personal stories, of course, bring it all into focus, give it pungency, and help us see ourselves in our spiritual flailings about.

You have given me another reason to admire Augustine: the desire (and belief) that all should enjoy the riches of God, not just the pure, the knowing, or any other elite. I had a professor of biblical theology who rejected every form of gnosticism for the same reason.

If it ain't for everybody, then it ain't grace!

I See You!

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