“But most important, you gotta believe in yourself! Like I do!”
--- Bill O’Reilly, “The O’Reilly Factor,” Tip of The Day
Believe in himself indeed. O’Reilly does, in italics, and Donald Trump, in spades. Quietly, humbly self-confident they are not. These two are the most talked-about -– a few weeks ago -- cases of core human craving for empowerment. This week one or both may be eating crow, while still crowing. But there’s always going to be a this-week’s chest thumper. Chest thumping will always be with us and is universal. It’s even metastasized to blueberries.
Such egomania assumes some sort of empowerment. At bottom, it’s inner, intrinsic, and latent awaiting activation. This essay is a skewed, necessarily incomplete, and not altogether serious review & evaluation of some of mankind's most popular magic wands and pogosticks. Upsy-daisy!
Biblically oriented people know that the empowerment idea goes way back to the very beginning, to the Garden of Eden, when Satan beguiled Eve into believing that the apple was the very key to super-cosmic empowerment. God, Satan whispered, well knows that but wants to keep it secret, the jealous old patriarch. But you’ll show Him you won’t stand for it. Go ahead, take a bite -- you’ll be Queen of the Universe! Long live the Queen!
Eve was but the first to aspire to cosmic empowerment. Who the greatest sovereigns of worldly kingdoms have been is, of course, argued by historians. So let’s say Nebuchadnezzar was the first. He surely saw himself as the most Golden potentate ever to be in all history (Daniel 2). So he erected an enormous golden image, a pretty imposing selfie, to which all were required to bow on penalty of cremation in the fiery furnace. A perk of potentates whether trivial or memorable, is disposing of dissidents.
Next in the parade of potentates is Alexander the Great. Though merely silver (according to Daniel 2), Alexander aspired to Evean empowerment: apotheosis. The registry of earthly deities includes the sundry fully-deified Caesars, and, in my day, Japanese Emperors. Not a few Renaissance European monarchs settled for “the divine right of kings.” This peculiar human right was conferred by holy oil drizzled upon their heads by a triple-crowned pope. Fully empowered, popes have insisted, as Christ’s vicar, to bestow crowns, create saints, and wield the keys to heaven. In terms of dollars if not a solid gold selfie, Jeff Bezos, Emperor of Amazon, is the current sovereign, being the richest man in the world. Canonized by polls and gold-plated images probably made in China, celebrities are worshiped even above presidents and popes and Bezoses, certainly in this freedom-loving-land.
Only a few, the 1%, are singled out for sovereignty with authority to incinerate heretics or grant admission to heaven or sign autographs. The rest of us, the “99%”, however, have easy access to a cornucopia of empowerments. Available by a silly little 1-click from Amazon’s Prime are falsies, football or tailored shoulder pads, masks, helmets, Green Beret camos and full dress uniforms, boots, Lugers and AK40s, Harley Davidsons, and the Breakfast of Champions. A little more clicking yields horoscopes, lottos or Las Vegas, personal trainers or extreme makeovers. Editors, Agents, or hit-men. Protest signs and tweets. Rich old men are helped out of their walkers and into their Lamborghini Veneno Roadsters to race over to have hair implants and botox. To 98-pound weaklings, gallons of latex are applied and – voilà! – superheros! Lacking latex, Photoshop will do.
All very nice, but merely materialistic. There are much different and mightier empowerments.
Ever since the masks and dramas and comedies and smoke & mirrors of ancient Greece and Gladiators slaying each other and lions devouring Christians in the Coliseum, entertainment has always been a potent power, earning laurels acclaim, and mega-adulation. But Hollywood is the Nebuchadnezzar of entertainment, the most Golden (Metro-Golden-Meyer) of all, reigning unchallenged (except maybe by Bollywood but not Dollywood) as the emperor of action and escape, both operating through virtual reality and suspension of disbelief, instantly available at a theater near you and a screen already in hand.
The first individual mass up-up-and-away power that broke upon my scene was The Power of Positive Thinking, a game-changer book of 1952, by Norman Vincent Peale. Think positively ’till you are blue in the face and you can fly like, with, the eagle if not GPS satellites. But back then -– long ago -- a small cluster of clergy and even certain psychiatrists reacted negatively rather than positively. They warned that self-hypnosis was behind Peal power. And whether administered by another or yourself hypnosis forfeits your own will if not consciousness to the hypnotist, leaving you with even less power. But such cavil is long out of date. Nowadays, hypnosis is acclaimed as such a great empowerment that it’s an entitlement. Self-evidently another of the burgeoning list of human rights, like marijuana, medical hypnosis ought to be covered by Affordable Care like mandatory birth control for nuns, if it isn't already.
As an aside, Peale was an ordained minister and, not surprisingly, a pioneer progressive one, but, surprisingly, a religious legalist of the most outdated kind. That’s of interest only because of the pun it elicited. During the Eisenhower-Stevenson presidential campaign, Peale preached powerfully against Stevenson because he was divorced. To this Stevenson replied, “St. Paul appeals but Peale appalls.” Being a devoted Eisenhowerean I ignored everything Stevenson said, and happened upon the pun only recently thanks to the power of Google. To me, puns are more powerful than Peale’s Thinking if not Eisenhower’s grin (Eisenhower Power). If at the time I’d known of Stevenson’s pun I might have voted for him.
“Creativity,” also called the “Inner Eye,” is what inner power is called in art schools. In recent times exalted, creativity replaced old-time raw practice and hard study, plaster casts and live models, and sweat.
But now it is recognized that primacy belongs to spirituality, the engine of creativity. Creativity standing alone is out of style. Not only in art school and ikebana flower clubs but in Hollywood and on the yoga mat, there is more talk about spirituality than creativity. Science once said spirituality was naught but superstition and thus thought it had dealt spirituality a deadly wound. But spirituality has revived and is a power whose time has come, again, as in ancient otherwise less informed times and civilizations. It's auto-developed mantra of empowerment is "I'm spiritual, but not religious."
So spirituality has come of age. Spirituality is a human right, integral with our DNA, and in society too burgeoning to be confined to arty people or any people or culture or cult, or any easy definition, which is why it is so powerful.
Spirituality of whatever era must involve forces that are not human, para-normal, other-worldly. And to many people that sounds like God. But depending on the era and the culture it may not be. In fact "spirituality" is a handy euphemism for avoiding God yet invoking some even more ill-defined preternatural entity, in some cultures as vaporous as vapor.
In certain eras the preternatural entities become more tangible. Then they are "spirits." Though of necessity not tangible, spirits like to express themselves in various tangible ways, always unexpected, sometimes scary and sometimes enrapturing. In the 19th century, when spirituality carried the technical name “spiritualism,” the spirits rattled windows, levitated tables and scared people. Or, at the beck and call of handlers known as mediums, they assumed the persona of your dear departed mother or father. Spirits have been known to behave like Nordic or Greek gods, about whom Jeopardy contestants never miss a question, while being embarrassingly uninformed about the Bible.
Which raises the question of whether spirituality involves goodness or evil. Easy question: neither. In the days of spiritualism, the spirits, those that specialized in rattling windows or dumping tables over, were towards the not-exactly hellish but still evil side. At least they were scary. But never fear, scariness isn't evil, not by todays standards. Hollywood’s scarry special-effects spirits leave you screaming your head off, or puking, and you leave the theater happy. "It was a great movie!"
Happier yet are the moguls who make billions off your rapturous fright. Even the scary Salem witches merely pushed pins into avatars, or somehow inflicted spells of twitching. The 19th century spirits liked to materialize as your dear dead father or mother, speaking comfortingly, mellowed if in real life harsh.
Hindus know of no Satan or evil as I think of it but certain of their spirits are pretty bad. Those that usher you into nirvana are necessity neutered because nirvana is nullity, a good much-sought-after thing. As to arousing fright, well, the Bible discloses that Christ aroused fear when his disciples thought He must have been a ghost, walking on water like that. It’s worth noting that Christ bade them “fear not,” and offered them blessings that "eye hath not seen nor ear heard nor entered into the heart of man." Other spirits of more frankly evil nature are hellbent on enhancing fright or even terrorizing.
You know that some kind of spirituality has surmounted all redoubts when atheism – famously defined by its refractory disbelief in the very idea of God – embraces, of all things, spirituality. Click here.
But back to religion and spirituality. I have noticed that religion is becoming less about God and more about spirituality. There's a difference. Fully aware of the difference, theologians are inclined either to dismiss the difference or promote and detail it, admonishing the empowerment of "spirituality" and cursing mere doctrines as legalism. Who says miracles aren't possible. Theologians perform miracles of logic all the time.
Speaking of miracles, “Drudge Report” reports that "Inside religion is creating 'God robot' a billion times smarter than humans..." A mere billion? If spirituality can straight-facedly worm itself into atheism as well as your dead father or a table, why not religion and technology, maybe both at once? After all, spirits were the preternatural intelligence of 19th century Ouija boards, why not 21st century robos? Why should robos have to rely on artificial man-made intelligence? Think of what a spirit-possessed robo could do! Not surprisingly, headline-writers see preternatural robos as consummately bloody threats to the very existence of civilization.
But we all know that in this--the 21st post-modernist century--nothing is final. There’s always something coming to strain credibility, something unexpected. That's what's so great about being alive right now, I've heard it said. Who knows, maybe some spirit, the one that in 1848 came back as your mother, may get tired of returning as her or a Salem witch, or even of Ouija boards and motherboards, and come back as – Christ! (Matthew 24:24-26).
Until that day comes, the spiritual experience is called, in spiritual blogs or progressive pews, a “journey.” My circle of friends like to say that. Haight-Ashbury Street hippies called it a “trip.”
My friends say their spiritual “journey” has led them to a higher open-minded theology about God or at least “life” or, for those of a Platonic bent, satisfactory ethics or deontology. That is to say, their journey takes them through and to higher and higher cognitive-centers in the brain. Theirs is a journey of thought. The goal is "understanding."
On the other hand, what seems to be a lot more popular in Hollywood (California) as well as Bodhgaya (India), than thought-crammed spiritual journeys, is the yearning to descend to some lower brain center that doesn’t bother with consciousness -- somewhere out-of-brain, out-of-body, out-of-mind. They yearn for their souls to merge with a disembodied preternatural bosom, or segue into some transcendent state. The less thought, the less discussion, the less the brain is involved, the more empowerment into heavenly nothingness. For them the consummate empowerment is impotency. Their journey’s blessed end is a return to the womb, that is, heaven, which is…nothing, not even clouds and harps. Gurus call it nirvana; progressives of my church call it the “Spiritual Foundation" (or Spiritual Formation).
By whatever name, you may journey there, preferably motionless on a magic mat, by incantations, or endless repetition of a holy name (or big words); or kissing images, especially toes, bowing to the East, West, to Mecca or to the sun or moon or a frog. Whether by a pacing saffron-robed Buddhist or umber-hooded Catholic monk, or by a socialite or TV producer clad in deluxe spandex YogaWare meditating motionless as a lotus blossom on a mat; or by a naked aborigine decorated all over with painted keloids and dancing in a frenzy around a pole adorned with eagle feathers and sacrificial skulls, or a celebrity Scientologist being audited and "cleared" of all unwanted or toxic or traumatic mental things; whether by Yoga, Zen or Dianetics, by a witches brew or cyanide-flavored Kool Aid, by ritual or recreational psychedelics dispensed by shamans, street dealers, or CVS; whether “kat” fresh off the herb or “cat” (Methcathinone) fresh out of the lab; or simply, as seems to be the most popular route of all, spending all day with your nose in a screen –- all these whether soundless or screamed, have in common the attainment of disembodied mindlessness in quest of, or escape from, the unendurable pain here below or the unendurable bliss above, itself disembodied.
Call it Nirvana if you are a guru; call it OTVIII if you are a practitioner wise in the vocabulary of Scientology. The more sophisticated, and arguably gullible, among us favor costly Peal-pioneered pricey seminars, or secret bloody or obscene induction or purification ceremonies, or a Freudian couch.
Stay tuned for part 2 !!
Dr. Kime was born 1929 in Los Angeles, California. But, he's nice.
Kime pursued dual careers in art (since childhood) and medicine (physician; specialties in internal medicine and pathology; clinical and academic). He studied the principles of art, chemistry of paint, and the works of master artists as assiduously as medicine. After retiring from pathology at Kettering Medical Center in 1994, Dr. Kime has concentrated on his art, producing portraits, seascapes and figural work mainly in oils, and urbanscapes predominantly in watercolor. Dr. Kime currently lives in Redlands, CA.