Monday, April 13, 2015

Idol Thoughts

Hey, I've got a new book out! Idol Thoughts: The Captivity of the Mind and Its Liberation in Christ presents an ancient teaching of the monastic fathers on the eight thoughts that take us away from God, providing a contemporary take on what they are and how to combat them.

This bit of fourth-century spiritual wisdom is the historical origin of the seven capital sins, but organized and discussed a bit differently. I go into each of the thoughts, explain how they work and why they are so attractive to us, and then suggest a path of liberation from their captivating power in our lives.

Specifically, I present the practice of lectio divina-prayer with Scripture-as a powerful remedy for these illusory and enslaving thought patterns, giving specific Gospel texts to use against each of the thoughts.

I intend the book to be a practical, easy to read, and even funny (well, I think it's funny, anyhow) approach to the spiritual life and wisdom of the desert fathers. I hope you will buy it, read it, and enjoy it. Here is an excerpt from the first chapter, introducing the subject:

This is a book about thinking… Thinking, and the thoughts we think, and where they take us, and whether or not that’s precisely where we want to go. Whether or not those particular thoughts are going to actually make us happy, set us on a course of life that is real, that will work, the will bring us true and lasting fulfillment.

It all starts there, doesn’t it? Long before we swing into action, long before we start guzzling down food or fornicating, swinging our fists or our credit cards around, lashing out in resentment and bitterness of spirit or collapsing into a pool of self-pity and despair, pouring all our energies into getting our share of the pie, being the top dog, the star of the show, the boss—long before we draw up a plan of action and release the hounds of our personal energies and intelligence… it’s all going on in our thoughts, isn’t it?

It’s what we allow to roll around in the caverns of our mind, sometimes with full knowledge and awareness, quite often not so much so. The beliefs, the values, the ideas we hold about what’s what and what will make us happy—all of these are the driving forces for the actual choices we make, the actual dispositions of our being towards the world, our own selves, and God.

Oddly, it’s not really about what we say we believe—the religion we adhere to, the Creed we profess, the moral code we have affirmed to be true. All of that may be as it is, and we may be totally sincere about it. But are we, really? Underneath, still, there is a whole other creed we adhere to with its own set of articles, a whole other religion with its peculiar practices and rites, a whole other set of gods to whom we offer sacrifice.

Idol thoughts… and the fatal choice we make to think them, to give them credibility, to burn the incense of our personal being and self-disposition before them, to give them our allegiance, to let them loose in the maze of our minds, rat-like, to find and eat the cheese of our personal freedom and our destiny.

It is for this reason that in the spiritual tradition of the Christian West the classic thought patterns that bedevil us are called the ‘Capital Sins’. As Thomas Aquinas puts it, “a capital vice is one from which other vices arise, chiefly by being their final cause.”[1]

In simple non-technical language this means we lapse into sinful behaviors because we believe they will make us happy. For example, if I just can punch that no-good so-and-so in the face, I’ll feel so much better. The capital sin of anger is in this case the core belief that revenge will make me happy. Believing that is what drives the choice to commit an act of physical violence.

It really is a question of idolatry, of believing that this good will fulfill me, that this state of affairs will satisfy me, that this is worth sacrificing everything else to, that this is the absolute good of my being. In other words, my god. And it all starts in the thoughts.

It’s the thoughts that count, in other words. Master your mind, your thoughts, your real underlying belief systems about what will make you truly happy, and conform it to the truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ, and so much of the moral life will become, if not exactly easy breezy fun, at least much, much easier...

Read the rest of it here.

[1] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I.II.84.3

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