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Friday, October 10, 2014

Thinking Like a Jesuit

Classmate John Thissen sent an article from America which quotes Pope Francis as saying: "We should care more about Jesus than we do about the Church." He also said "I think like a Jesuit."

My late brother-in-law used to joke with me that he went to a Catholic University (Notre Dame) not a Jesuit one. And indeed I fell right into his humorous stereotype when I told him that I have left Christianity including the RC Church, but I shall always remain a Companion of Jesus.

Indeed I do not want to be known as "Christian" mainly because I do not want to confuse myself with many who do call themselves Christian. And I no longer participate in Roman Catholic ritual or language (hierarchical, sexist, dominating) because frankly I was tired of confronting it as a good reformer should and as do my Catholic friends admirably carrying on the spirit of Vatican II.

But like Pope Francis, I am still "a Jesuit at heart." And I wish him and those in communion with him godspeed.

They say it is the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius that forms Jesuit-think. I also believe that it is the long tradition of liberal education, the attempt to reconcile contemporary thinking (and especially the new science) to traditional beliefs, the focus on poverty and the poor, outreach to other cultures by going in through their ways of seeing the world, and appreciation for diversity in thought and behavior. Nevertheless, the Spiritual Exercises is a good place to start to understand thinking like a Jesuit.

A popular image of the Jesuits is that of great intellectuals. Yet the Spiritual Exercises do not focus on intellectual reasoning but on imagination and feeling. They consist of imagining walking with Jesus in his time, feeling his passion for justice, for the poor, for equity, for the earth and then making a decision regarding your own calling in walking with him in our time.

Ignatius and the early Jesuits did add "thinking with the Church" and "blind obedience" (two phrases I despise) to the Spiritual Exercise for they were in a time of Revolution and counter-revolution with the papacy and the Inquisition. To survive, many of them curried favor with powerful princes of the Catholic world. It is not all a happy history and one most of us like to forget or paper over. It carried on in the Irish Church as well exemplified by James Joyce. See his Jesuits in "Portrait."

But with the triumph of the Enlightenment, the final self-destruction of doctrinaire religions through the European Religious Wars, New World revolutions and the growth of secularism, and in the US Church link to immigrants, labor, and the poor, in France the priest-worker movement, and in the Philippines and Latin America liberation theology and the base community movement, contemporary Jesuits were liberated to be the best they could be. And I am proud to be associated with them as Companions of Jesus as they name themselves.

What attracted many of us young pre-Peace Corps Ghetto Catholics to become Jesuits were not so much the great theologians and philosophers but the Waterfront Priests (John Corridan), Youth Action Priests (Dan Lord), Labor Priests (Ed Boyle), Anti-war Priests (Dan Berrigan), and our young Jesuit scholastics promoting social justice and marching for Civil Rights.

My own developing imagination of Jesus in my ongoing spiritual exercises has been fired by a lot of scholars including the historical criticism of the New Testament and other early accounts of Jesus, the reconstruction of the history of the Church including the Fathers of the Church, the works and actions of other great spiritual leaders, the study of culture and religion in culture, sociology, social psychology, neuroscience, and yes lots of philosophy--which at its best is critical thinking, i.e. questioning, everything. And of course my imagination of Jesus grows as I carry out my own vocation.

I don't like the image of Jesus as the Prophet, the King, the Redeemer, the High Priest, the Savior, or God. And I don't think he thought of himself that way. Though clearly his biographers used those images.

I like the image of Jesus as a sort of an ancient cynic (the "hippies of the time) traveling around with his possessions on his back in tune with the earth and its bounty. I see him as a rebel confronting the patronage system of Rome, a revolutionary identifying with those who are excluded from or dominated by that system, and a prophet challenging the morality and the religious sanctification of that system. I image him as a peacenik who condemns violence even to the point of accepting it on himself, a humanist who sees that everyone is fundamentally worthwhile and blessed, a skeptic questioning all the truths of the mighty, and an organizer who gathers people together to question, confront, challenge, and live with him. I also imagine him as a secular here-and-now person, not a otherworldly wait-for-later person when/if he used the language of freedom, justice, and heaven or kingdom of God.

That's the Jesus I choose to walk with along with my other companions.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Living Past 75

Reading at 76 Dr. Emmanuel's "Why I hope to die at 75" stimulates some reflection.  I was reflecting on old age and life's end anyways. 
  • I recently returned from a class reunion in Detroit where we talked about those who are no longer with us and planned our next reunion deciding not to wait the traditional 5 years. 
  • A couple of days ago one of those classmates, Bill Dwyer, died at 76 in his sleep without warning of pains or sickness.
  • Bernie and I just moved into a continuum of care retirement community where I constantly point out to her: "Wow, look at all these old people!"
  • I'm in process of taking a course on Satire in the Enlightenment and just reread Swift's Gulliver's Travels including the visit to Luggnagg where the struldbrugs grow old but never die.
  • And last week in Pittsburg we were playing a "wish game" and my 10 year old grandson Remy said that his wish was that I don't grow any older. 
That latter event hit me especially hard because now I knew that he saw me slowing down, not as ready to throw him about and wrestle and play monster games. I saw myself through his eyes and it's bad enough looking in the mirror.

_______


I feel good. I run 20 miles a week, take bike rides, and in my new old folks home intend to do pool laps regularly. (Everybody says that you die very fit here!)

I read lots, fiction and non fiction, belong to a book club, keep up with the news, go to lectures and plays, regularly visit the wonderful museums in DC, and take advantage of other learning experiences.

I volunteer in housing and community development, my lifelong vocation, in one of the DC neighborhoods through our church's affordable housing development organization and serve on a few community boards.

My wife was and my children are very successful in their careers. I have no idea how much money my children make. But it seems to be enough and they seem very happy with what they are doing and our grandchildren are the best. Now with us in this continuum of care retirement community, they won't have to worry about us. (I wish everybody who wanted it could have this opportunity and that we as a people would provide it, say, through Medicare.)
_______

But Dr. Emmanuel, I'm 76 and over your hill. I don't particularly want to die. And I know that is not what you are saying. You are pointing out that I probably have shot my wad and it's time to let go. I agree. But I have different or perhaps added reasons than those you give.

Yes, I don't want my grandchildren to remember me as a bumbling, stumbling old man. But on the other hand I do hope they can see me as a person who knew how to grow old with some grace and gratitude. I watched my father die of Alzheimer's and my mother after a stroke and it was very, very painful. But that was just an episode. It is not at all how I encounter them today in my dreams and memories. In fact my image of them keeps aggrandizing as I get older.

I will not write that great book or found that big organization or save the world as I thought I would. No, I will not achieve Fame and Fortune--at least no more than I already have; and that's not much. But you know what?  I no longer care. I do want to keep trying to make contributions and think I can in much smaller ways than I once fantasized. I am close to coming to terms that I am a speck upon a speck upon a speck upon a speck upon a speck as one astrophysicist has summed it up. But I am still curious and fascinated by all those specks.

At 76 I intend to take no extraordinary means to prolong that speck. If I am diagnosed with cancer, I will not try to cut it out or stop it with chemotherapy or radiation--unless it be to lesson my pain and promote my tranquillity. If I have a massive stroke or heart attack, let me go where it will take me. And so on. And so on.

And though my life is but an instant of an instant of an instant of an instant of an instant, I enjoy in my instant the warmth of the sun and the breeze caressing my body, the touch of my lover, the sound of falling water, the company of good friends. I am in awe of my brothers and sisters who have nurtured their children, built their communities, composed concerts, choreographed dances, meticulously detailed or boldly splashed paint on canvas, constructed theories, exercised leadership, risked failure, and co-created my world. My instant passes into the next. I am grateful for my instant and will continue to be as long as I live. 

__________

And then there is the matter of Swift's struldbrugs, the immortals of Luggnagg. They are not exactly the same that the AI or Singularity people envision as they work towards human immortality through better and better technology. Yet they do present a cautionary tale for the geeks for everlasting life to consider.

Would it not be a horrible place if humans stayed around forever? Would there not be a disincentive for innovation? Look today how hard it is to get past old ways of thinking and behaving. New birth opens to new possibilities. And keeping old people around forever would suppress new birth.

I doubt we would have had the Axial Revolution much less the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution if the old entrenched group had not let go by dying off. The abolition of slavery, the development of republics, the decline of superstition, the liberation of women, the weaving of a safety net of guaranteed income and health and housing, the openness to diverse religions and lifestyles would still be held back if the Tories had their way. 

Even now old white Christian men in the West along with Islamic fundamentalists in the East fight against change which they think is the cause of all the world's ills. When they themselves in their reliance on violence to protect the way things were and maintain their dominating narrow habits of thinking and behaving are the real problem. Yes, that includes me and all of us over-75ers. We must die and make room for innovation.

I would like to think that we still have a contribution to make if perchance we live past 75 and if we so choose. That contribution is to let go, make room, pass on the torch, and help the new generations to do the same.






Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Decline of the Nation-State

Having recently visited Scotland, we watched the vote for independence from Great Britain with interest. "No" won quite decisively for lots of reasons. Yet the process was instructive for all of us.

I think it portends or even demonstrates a transforming global political order. One in which power will devolve to cities, within ever expanding yet redefining regional connections, where local self-determination and participation is accessible and exercised in ways that persons, families, and neighborhoods can thrive. But perhaps that is just wishful thinking.

Empires have been a historical certainty. Persian, Chinese, Babylonian, Egyptian, Athenian, Roman. Eastern and Western feudalism led to nation states within empires run by a centralized, hierarchically organized ruler. But empires collapsed with the First World War. Sure, we still have areas of influence which came to a head in the Cold War with groupings of national allies. And the US portrays much of the markings and behaviors of an Empire. But not the way of the French Napoleanic empire ruled from Paris. Or the British or Turkish empire. The resurgence of empires in Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan or even Stalinist Russia was denied. And now the American Empire, even with its almost-monopoly of the means of violence, is dissolving much to the woes of neo-conservatives, neo-liberals, and nostalgic "patriots."

Now are nation-states going the same way?  Economically, transnational corporations exert the most influence by virtual plutocracies that transcend national boundaries. Civil wars cross national boundaries. The Islamic State is an anachronism in trying to establish an Islamic Caliphate as would be a Christian attempt to reestablish the Holy Roman Empire. It is actually a grouping of "liberation" or "terror" (depending on your perspective) movements in the Middle East. And consider the Kurds, the Basques, the Palestinians, the Bosnians, and others throughout the world where peoples are grouping through culture or economics or politics or all and using the misleading language of "two (or more) civilizations" or "war on (or of) terrorism." Even the US Civil War is not over.

I read Francis Fukuyama, a recovering neocon or neoliberal, because he makes me think.  In his "End of History and the Last Man," he poses that history as Hegel understood it (a dialectic) and its conflicts are surpassed in the triumph of liberal, capitalistic democracy. He was wrong, but really it was Hegel and Marx who were wrong and all those who speculate that we are reaching some pinnacle of history and humanity in western liberal post-capitalist democracy. Fukuyama did indicate in his book the rising wave of tribalism that could keep the conflicts of history going.

His book on "Trust" studied the importance of bridging social capital (Putnam's term) in regions both within and among nations in raising the economic standard of living. And then in his "Origins of Political Order," he works out his Political Development Model of State Building, Rule by Law, and Accountable Government. In all these works, he presents the cognitive tools for our move beyond empire and the nation-state into intra and inter regional thinking.

The striving for justice and peace remains an imperative. It is linked, I think, to our fundamental desire for recognition and respect (as Fukuyama draws from Plato) which is achieved in public space, i.e. politics. That politics is being gobbled up by the forces of private enrichment in which plutocrats and their institutions rule. What form will the restoration of public space with justice and peace take now that empires and nation-states are in decline?

I believe that to be the most important question of our era.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Meta-Physics

The latest SA cover article by Lawrence Krauss "A Beacon from the Big Bang" discusses the discovery of gravitational waves from the inflation of the Universe microseconds after the origin of the universe. This discovery, if confirmed, could launch a new Scientific Revolution that unites quantum and macro physics into the unified "theory of everything" including wild previously undiscovered dimensions in our universe and new, possibly infinite universes distinct from our own.

Wow! Wow! Wow!

Krauss: "From the perspective of understanding the very origins of our universe and the vexing problem of why it exists at all, probing inflation by the observation of gravitational waves has the potential of turning what many consider to be one of the grandest metaphysical speculations of all into hard physics." (p.67)

Now that sentence stimulates in me an inquiry into the meaning of "metaphysics" and the role of philosophy vis-a-vis science.

"Metaphysics" (After Physics), which Aristotle called the chapter that came after his chapter called Physics, became pretty wierd in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Physis is the Greek word for nature and meta can be translated as "after," "above," and "beyond." Metaphysics was considered the special knowledge and technique of spiritualists and occultists like Rosacrucians, Christian Scientists, Scientologists, Cabalists, Sufis, Metaphysicians, and even Theologians.

Therefore among rational, secular, and scientific thinkers and skeptics, metaphysics became quite discredited. Philosophers used "ontology" instead of "metaphysics." But that only served to heap discredit on Ontology and Philosophy. I certainly would not want to be accused of being a metaphysician or at all dabbling in metaphysics.

Yet here the word is being used by a very credible astrophysicist.

The word implies something beyond, after, and/or above nature. Yet nature is defined as "all there is" and "all that is subject to scientific inquiry." That seems to exclude "Santa Claus," the "Great Pumpkin," "gods," "angels and devils," "ghosts in machines," "sphinxes," "minotaurs," (who knows about "mermaids" and "unicorns") concepts which are clearly above or beyond the natural order and so not useful to this skeptic except as metaphors for something that can be subject to scientific inquiry or fancies of the imagination fueling artistic endeavors. (Including my new favorite Terry Prachett Diskworld books--but more on his "theology" later.)

There it is: imagination. Einstein says imagination is the main driver of science. What imagination is I'll let the evolutionary psychologists and neuroscientists determine. It seems to be the singular, special capacity of human existence linked to consciousness and symbolic behavior. It is our ability to speculate and so try on theories of the origins and workings of nature. It is our ability to project future states and so plan and change the world.

Nature and our knowledge of it are not static but continually transforming. And so there is an after- or beyond-nature which is the Future of nature, continually be-coming partially due to our interaction with it. A becoming for good or for evil as we choose using our insight into nature. Science, art, religion, and good old common sense, all endeavors of the human enterprise, struggle with the origins and ends, the Alpha and the Omega, of and beyond nature including its universes, our world, and our selves. In our imagination, our speculation, and our action, the Alpha and Omega are/is already here and now pushing and pulling us personally and collectively.

And so astrophysicist Krauss can embrace "metaphysical speculation" and attempt to turn it into "hard physics."

Which leads me to consider the role of philosophy in relation to science and other human endeavors. I see it as sort of the before and after of science and other human enterprises.

As I have earlier indicated I distinguish three realms of human enterprise: economy (the realm of life and the desire to survive and thrive), culture (the realm of meaning and the desire to know), and politics (the realm of power and the desire to act/initiate). Incidentally, "love" can be defined in relation to each of these realms and their desires.

Within the cultural realm are many professions and disciplines. Among them are science, art, religion, and philosophy itself. Philosophy is a reflection on these disciplines. It is literary and art criticism. It is interpretation of the sciences and their theories. It is history and explication of religions and their manifestations. It is inquiry into the meaning and role of philosophy and its concepts. In reflecting on the meanings of these disciplines in the past, philosophy is also speculating on the future within the disciplines and among them and in relation to the other two realms of human desire and endeavor, the political and the economic.

Good philosophy does not take the place of or rule over any of these disciplines or human endeavors. It appreciates and spurs them on. It drives us to discover through them the Alpha and Omega of our human existence and its world.  Now that's a metaphysics that I can accept.



Sunday, September 21, 2014

Logic Model

In my last post, in an attempt to clarify my thinking on ethics and politics, I laid out 5 propositions and 5 conclusions. In this post I round out my logic model by identifying 5 assumptions for my 5 propositions and their conclusions, 5 principles for action derived from the conclusions, and 5 specific actions that are integral to my ethical and political policy platform.

Why 5 turtles all the way down? Convenience of presentation. Assumptions proven are of course no longer assumptions but are based on other assumptions. And those assumptions can/should be questioned. But gotta start someplace.

Here are assumptions on which my propositions are based:
1. The evolution of the (human) species by natural selection including body and consciousness.
2. Intrinsic worth and transformative ability of every human person. (So what constitutes a human person?)
3. Human ability for theory of mind and empathy. (So what constitutes that and how?)
4. Imagination as the distinguishing and central human capacity. (What and why?)
5. Problem solving through reason and science as the means to progress (How so?)

Now I repeat my propositions and conclusions (with some further explanation):

Here are my foundational propositions:

1. To be human is to engage the world and know reality. (Human existence as progressive knowing and creating.)
2. Engaging the world is knowing reality. (Unity of knowing and acting.)
3. Humans know reality (subjective and objective) through symbols, humanly constructed models and metaphors. (Constructivist philosophy of knowing as opposed to realism and idealism.)
4. The human enterprise of knowing and engaging reality is a social enterprise. (To become a person is to interact with others).
5. Culture, economics, and politics are distinct ways of knowing and engaging the world. (Understand the priority relationships between maintaining life, having meaning, and exercising power.)

From these propositions come conclusions on which to construct an ethics and politics:

1. Obligation (the "should") arises from the dynamic, progressive character of human existence (the "is").
2. Good and evil, i.e what should be affirmed or denied, is accessible to human nature and reason.
3. The illusion of the absolute, the negation of the other, the separation of being, knowing, and acting, and the confusion of modes of knowing and acting are obstacles to human existence and are the source of evil in the world.
4. Human transcendence does not rest on supernatural transcendents. (Ethics and politics are not dependent on supernatural entities and transcend human groupings, cultures, nations.)
5. Within humans personally and collectively are the guiding principles to deal with the specific issues of life, meaning, and action which confront us today. (Conscience or moral consciousness arises naturally from human interaction in the world).

From these conclusions, I fashion some principles for action:

1. Challenge all assumptions, propositions, beliefs, and principles. (No absolutes.)
2. Keep faith beyond beliefs. (Maintain the difference between human existence and its expressions.)
3. Build publics and connect them. (Support voluntary association that hold all institutions accountable and promote justice.)
4. Create a just social order. (Maintain the tension and priorities between cultural, economic, and political institutions. Refine the processes and structures of society to promote the worth of all beings).
5. Integrate oneself with oneself, others, and the earth. (Understand and hold the tensions of existence to achieve maximum integrity.)

Finally, I promote specific actions for my time and place:

1. organize and act for economic equity (overcome poverty, expand the middle class, limit wealth and its influence).
2. organize and act for renewal of the planet (response to climate change, environmental preservation, new urbanism)
3. organize and act for inclusion and tolerance in diversity (against racism, classism, sexism, etc)
4. organize and act for scientific and technological progress (and against technologies of destruction)
5. organize and act for maximum political participation (local and regional power, nonviolence, voter rights).

And on this is based my manifesto whose preliminary formulation can be found here.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Return to the Mission

I am sitting at my blog site after settling in body to our new settings while still a bit unsettled in soul. Yes, we've moved to a "retirement community" accepting our aging with our growing infirmities and like Diana and Tom in the BBC sitcom "Waiting for God."

Unsettledness is not unusual for me. I have often raised it to a virtue.

But now I want to get back to my mission: considering the future of the universe--or at least the world and the species--thinking about ethics and politics. Why not? Seems to be a worthy enterprise while I wait for God(ot).

I've had lots of discussions about my writings on The New Transformation. I am continuously trying to clarify what I mean, the distinctions that I consider crucial, the expressions I have made and their limits. And so thought goes on and I continue to learn in the process. I do not claim the truth of my positions. Indeed I want them to be challenged--but first understood.

Poor me! I am so often misunderstood.

In my unworthy desire to be loved, respected, and understood, I will attempt to summarize and clarify the main points I am making. I know they are controversial and many will not agree to them, including you. I repeat that I want you to disagree--but first understand what I am trying to say.

Here are my foundational propositions:

1. To be human is to engage the world and know reality.
2. Engaging the world is knowing reality.
3. Humans know reality (subjective and objective) through symbols, humanly constructed models and metaphors.
4. Culture, economics, and politics are distinct (not separate) ways of knowing and engaging the world.
5. The human enterprise of knowing and engaging reality is a social enterprise.

From these propositions come others on which to construct an ethics and politics:

6. Obligation (the "should") arises from the dynamic character of human existence (the "is").
7. Good and evil, i.e what should be affirmed or denied, is accessible to human nature and reason.
8. The illusion of the absolute, the negation of the other, the separation of being, knowing, and acting, and the confusion of modes of knowing and acting are obstacles to human existence and are the source of evil in the world.
9. Human transcendence does not rest on supernatural transcendents.
10. Within humans personally and collectively are the guiding principles to deal with the specific issues of life, meaning, and action which confront us today.

Now if reading those over, you understand what I am saying we can have a great conversation. But my expression is so influenced by my history, my values, my social status, my desires that I cannot expect anyone who has not read the same books, chosen the same life-style, had the same heroes, been brought up by the same ancestors to speak my exact same language. Yet our languages have evolved together with many of the same values and experiences; and we can actually take on each other's perspectives and appreciate each other's values through our ability for communication, for empathy, and for entering into each other's world.

So my hope and intent is that, as I elaborate each of these propositions and discuss them with you, we will reach the understanding of each other where we can hold a meaningful discussion, learn together, and perhaps settle on a course of thinking and acting ethically and politically.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Carpe Diem

Robin Williams is dead. The news startled many, including me. Because he was so admired. Because he made us laugh. At ourselves. At the world. At everything.

But for those of us who have suffered clinical depression, this event was special because he killed himself--something many of us have contemplated. And perhaps even those of us who have been treated, take medication, practice positive thinking, exercise regularly, get plenty of light, keep learning new things, socialize with friends, and maintain a project in life, still do from time to time. When the dark matter and energy overcome our outward expansion and start compressing us inwards.

We understand why. It is simply to flee the insufferable pain. It is a useless, irrational, purposeless pain we know when we think about it. But thinking about it often doesn’t help, and may make it worse. We know how fragile we are but don't want to admit it for fear of using it to manipulate others which simply adds to our self-loathing.

Yes, self-loathing—a sense of self which is useless, incompetent, without value. A self that looks at others and grandizes their accomplishments, products and achievement we cannot even understand much less duplicate. A sense of self that is not a partner with or part of others, but a competitor in some sort of race to nothing. A sense that I am not God, in control. I'm not even Robin Williams or Barack Obama.

Stupid, of course. But whether caused by genes or memes, heredity or culture (and certainly both are related), there it is. I am what I yam, as Robin William’s Popeye says. And I am grateful.

So Robin died. And so will I. He died earlier than he had to. But don't too many of us do so?—the kids shot at Sandyhook, the kids in Gaza shelled while playing football on the beach, the kids without healthcare, the kids killed in a car crash or in a drone strike or terrorist attack. Suffering and dying--that's life. Unnecessary suffering and dying—stopping it should be our project.

I will keep up my regimen to overcome my tendency to ruminate in depression even when I see my depression as a heightened state of consciousness, an insight into reality.

But I will follow the greatest advice that Robin gave us from the dead poet: Carpe Diem!


Thanks, Robin. You were a gift to us all.