We will, as a lead up to Christmas, be focusing on resisting the idolatry of a sentimental Christmas.
Sentimentalism wallows in feeling at the expense of truth and its companion, justice. Cultural philosopher bell hooks tells us that “the heart of justice is truth telling.” This means when lies or denial dominate, injustice follows, Justice is absent when Truth is absent.
Scientist Erich Jantsch, in his classic work The Self-Organizing Universe, calls God “the mind of the universe” and proposes that previously mystics wrote what he is now saying as a scientist and now that a scientist is saying it more people will hear the news. I think he is correct. Science gives a kind of housekeeping seal of approval on lots of ideas in our culture these days.
In the Christmas story of “incarnation” God is not just the mind of the universe in the sense of a disembodied mind—rather God is an embodied mind. That is what “incarnation” means—taking on flesh. Mind in the premodern consciousness includes creativity and sensual in-put. God’s mind includes heart and caring as Rabbi Heschel insists. Mind is more than a Cartesian notion of brain and rationality.
Aquinas is very much on board with bell hooks when he insists that “the proper objects of the heart are truth and justice.”
Seeking truth and justice are the medicine for sentimentalizing which is, as sociologist Anne Douglas instructed us decades ago in her classic work on The Feminization of American Culture, the very opposite of justice and of truth. It is living in a doll-like world of pure sentiment, make-believe, oblivious of injustice–“rancid political consciousness” is her definition of sentimentalism. It seems to be quite alive and well in the current political scene.
Carl Jung teaches another truth about sentimentalism, that sentimentalism and violence are convex and concave of the same reality. Sentimentalism can easily be a cover for violence. I felt this as I watched some congressmen fume and shout at the Impeachment hearings. Violence was in the air.
This sentimentalizing of American culture helps explain I think the appalling flight from truth that flows from many of our elected politicians today. A disinterest in truth is manifest whether ignoring scientific facts about climate change or about congress’ responsibility to investigate an aberrant president. Currently the USA is the only country in the world where an entire political party is in denial about climate change.
Denial is a choice. Thomas Aquinas says it is a mortal sin—meaning a deadly virus to one’s own soul and to one’s community–to refuse to know something important that one ought to know.
See Matthew Fox, “On Desentimentalizing Spirituality,” in Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets, 297-315.
Queries for Contemplation
Are you making an effort to desentimentalize Christmas? This does not mean, of course, that we throw out the powerful stories of the coming of Cosmic Wisdom or render children disinterested to the wonders of the festival and the season. But it means we go deeper to move beyond the idolatry of sentimentalism (and consumerism). That we recognize that truth and justice are heart issues that deserve our attention and commitment.
In one of his foundational works, Fox engages in substantive discussions with some of history’s greatest mystics, philosophers, and prophets on today’s social and spiritual issues on such challenging topics as Eco-Spirituality, AIDS, homosexuality, spiritual feminism, environmental revolution, Native American spirituality, Christian mysticism, Art and Spirituality, Art as Meditation, Interspirituality, and more.