Guns, Religion, and Mental Illness
I grew up in a small town in Nebraska, and I was raised Catholic. If you look at Kimball Nebraska back in the 60s and 70s, it was a very small town, but because of large oil deposits in the area, it had a lot of wealthy people, who were willing to invest in their children’s future. I was very blessed to grow up with good schools, and modern books. I was a very poor student because my mind was always on girls, and I wasn’t very book smart when I graduated from high school, but I could cook, sew, and type. I knew when I graduated from high school that I was too much of a rebel for small-town life, but unfortunately for me, I had not fully grown up yet and was unprepared for life on my own. I joined the Navy for four years and spent most of my time on a ship overseas. The Navy would replace my parents. After the Navy, my cousin informed me that there were lots of opportunities for work in Las Vegas. He taught me a trade that would sustain me for the rest of my life. He did so, simply, because I was family and he was a person who always acted out of love and compassion. Eventually, I was able to get set up on my own, but because I had never finished the process of growing up, and being in full control of my life I was a perfect candidate for drug abuse. I reluctantly got up every morning and went to work, because as much as I hated digging ditches, the thought of starving and living on the streets proved enough to get my butt out of bed. The thought of losing my job and living on the streets was a constant fear, and alcohol and drugs were how I dealt with that fear.
I found myself one day standing on a street corner, nothing but a suitcase in my hand. I had hit bottom. I started walking down the street not knowing what to do, and I came across a treatment center, and I was lucky because a bed had opened that morning. I would not touch another drink of alcohol for over 25 years. When I left the treatment center, I was on the path to recovery, but I had a long way to go.
I was listening to Bill Moyer one night on public television, and he was doing a show called The Power of Myth which was a 6 part interview with Joseph Campbell. He would reintroduce me to the mythology and the symbols that I grew up with. He showed me that the mythologies that we grow up with are designed to take us from childhood to adulthood than to middle life, old-age, and death. He taught me that these mythologies were not about history, they were about us. Have you died to your animal nature and been resurrected as a human being? Have you gone from being dependent on mommy and daddy being a self-functioning adult?
As a child growing up if you would’ve asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would’ve told you a priest. Joe would reawaken my interest in religion and, I would begin reading his work. I believe one of the great factors in alcoholism is that many of us when we are born, are born with a very compulsive nature. Those people who put their compulsiveness into something positive often go on to great accomplishments, but unfortunately, those living in a world of fear and compulsiveness often die of tragic circumstance. Instead of just learning to deny my compulsiveness as some kind of birth defect, I would put that compulsiveness into learning the history of the world’s religions and its symbols.
I began reading everything that Joseph Campbell wrote, and shortly after that I would discover audiobooks on cassette, and I was lucky that a lot of Joseph Campbell’s work was available on cassette. I would still have to read because people, like Heinrich Zimmer, didn’t have audiobooks, but I began to listen to audiobooks while I worked as an electrician. I have many an apprentice that will tell you they have suffered through more than one of my audiobooks. Not everyone finds it as fascinating as I do. I would listen to my books and do my work for over 25 years. When it comes to religions, I have always been a big picture guy, and I concentrate more on what they have in common than I do dwelling on how they’re different. There are plenty of people who will tell you how they’re different. The following is a brief synopsis of what all that has taught me.
As human beings, we are not born fully developed, and a fully developed human being varies from person to person and society to society. In a simple society, full maturity can be reached in as little as 12 years, and in a complex society, it can be 18 years and up. Religion in its fundamental form is designed to take a person from being dependent to being responsible for themselves. It teaches a child the norms that it needs to live in a civilized society. What is a self-responsible human being? We are human beings, but we are also tigers. Our human nature is always in conflict with our animal nature. I think that there is a consensus in the religious world that the seat of our animal nature is in the brain.
The brain is only concerned with itself, and it’s survival. It is the seat of our hunger, our need to procreate, our need for personal contact and our need for pleasure. It is the seat of our fears and our desires. The seat of our humanity is at the level of the heart. It is the seat of love and compassion. I believe because of our brain capacity we have a unique connection to a consciousness that animals don’t have. I believe that love and compassion are fundamental to human survival, without it we would not be atop the food chain, and we would not have survived as a species. Being human beings requires together living, for us it requires our love and our compassion in order to live with each other. It is the seat of our individual self. When we are born, we are born with the tiger in full control, and one of our responsibilities as an adult is to teach that child how to control the tiger.
Many of my friends on the Right will tell you that when it comes to gun violence, that part of the problem is discipline, that we are not disciplining our children. I agree with them, but it needs to be a specific type of discipline. In almost all the religions that I’ve studied most have austerities that they practice. These austerities include periods of celibacy, fasting, and various forms of meditation. These austerities are designed to help a person control their animal nature. Celibacy and fasting put an individual face-to-face with his animal nature. The practice helps an individual, over time, to have dominion over the tiger. Meditation provides methods that are designed to put the individual in control of his mental faculty.
Our religions foster our love and compassion through our holidays and are rituals, many of which are centered around giving. Religion teaches us that when we have domination over the tiger that the voice left in our head is our true self, and as long as we listen to that, we are our own unique individual human being; an individual whose center is at the level of the heart. Those unfortunate human beings who are consumed by their fears and their desires live in the land of the hungry ghosts, and they seek one pleasure after another always hoping to find happiness but only finding emptiness, and they begin to suffer the symptoms of various types of mental illness. Many become angry and begin to feel like they’re outside the fray and many turn to violence, drugs, and crime.
Many a late show host laugh at the idea of a war on Christmas, and I agree, but they also laugh at what they call the war on religion, that there is no such thing and they are wrong. Like our politics, our religion has been pushed to the extremes. On the right we have the evangelicals, theirs is the only one correct religion, and everybody else is wrong. There is only one interpretation of the Bible, and it's theirs. On the left, we have those who call themselves atheists, and they are zealots for their science. Both are full of their own self-righteousness and looking down on those who don’t believe like them. In my view, they are both lost in the same metaphor. You don’t have to believe in God to understand that we are human beings and that as human beings we go through a process of growing up.
Our religions and our communities have always been a part of that growth. You go to any small town in America, and you can see the backbone of those communities has always been a local church. You see it all the time on the Internet when someone is showing pride in their Christianity, and atheist will come along and tell them that the thing that brings them joy is a fairytale, and remind them of all the evil done in the church’s name. They’ve themselves forget all the good the church has done in the suffering that is been eased because of their kindness. There are many Christians who don’t do themselves and my party any favors when they speak poorly of people who are different than them, especially when referring to the LBGTQ community.
There is a great divide in this country between the South, rural America and the rest of the country. I believe the people in the city that grew up in the city could learn a lot from the church and its relationship within the small communities and the overall sense of well-being that this relationship brings and how it develops young men in their community. Unfortunately, it brings with it a certain rigidness and at times a lack of tolerance for those different than those living in their community. Those of us living in the cities interact every day with people from different races, different creeds, different lifestyles. It is through working with these people every day, that we in the city, have a special tolerance for other people. Through interacting with these people, we learn that they are not any different than we are, and they struggle with the same everyday problems that we struggle with. I believe rural America could learn a little about tolerance from city folk.
I believe we should have a three-day waiting period for guns and so does most of America. I believe instead of arming our teachers that we would be better served by making access to mental health care a priority in this country. I think when it comes to the gun issue America would be better served by having part of a school curriculum be the practice of some type of austerity, alongside their academic disciplines. When I was in the Navy, I had the opportunity to meet a man who taught me a discipline that involves learning to shut off my mind.(I describe it on my website under essays called “surfing consciousness”) After years of practicing the discipline, I would eventually learn to be able to shut off my mind for long periods of time. That means periods of time where I have absolutely no thoughts. The world around me is completely blank. The idea being, if you control your mind, you control your fears and your desire. The biggest problem that would come out of us teaching our children to control their fears and desires is they wouldn’t have much value to businessmen.