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Monday, November 24, 2014

Trust but Verify

The comments today in the WSJ in reaction to the Obama's administration desire to continue talks with Iran were quite horrible. They demonstrate that so many American patriots are indeed righteous neocons. Many said to just go in and bomb Iran--because we are right and they are wrong. Others said that what we are doing by negotiating is "appeasement and appeasement never works and never has done."

Despite what the resurrected Jesus is to have said to Thomas, faith is not to believe something is true without evidence. That to me is the definition of ignorance. I don't mean to say that ignorance is bad. I'm with Socrates in that it is wise to know that we do not know for sure.

Faith is the choice to keep seeking to know by being open to new evidence. It's what drives science and it should also drive our politics. Faith is the willingness to keep engaging with others and the world even when others are hostile and the world seems absurd.

Blessed are we when we have enough faith to question our beliefs and to keep trying to find new and better ones that will make us all and our world better. Blessed are we who question even what we believe we have seen.

It is that faith that drives humanity to be and do better, to transcend our boundaries, to keep learning, and to keep loving despite, or maybe because of, the doubt in ourselves, others, and the world. Such faith is also a hope in an unknown and even fragile future. Such faith is also the love of participating with all others who will participate and with an openness to others who will not.

Yes, it is important to doubt what we think is true, to verify by evidence scientific laws, moral principles, and political treaties.  But first it is important to be open to learn new things about oneself and others, even those who seem to be our enemies. Verify, of course, but also trust.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Fifth Dimension

Last week Bernie and I went to see Interstellar in IMAX. Great trip! Especially after watching live the landing of the European Space Agency's Philae on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko now circling the sun.

Interstellar is both an action thriller and a science fiction head trip raising questions without settling them on the primacy of individual, family, or species, on the vulnerability of Earth and the desolation of worlds without life, on the meaning of time, on self-sacrifice, on loneliness, on the origins and constitution of the universe. And who are the "They" out there? Or are They We?  But the biggest question: is there a fifth dimension in addition to space and time called "love" related to our capacity for empathy?

The movie recalled something I wrote many years ago when exploring the notion of God in our post-modern culture.

God is Love. When we love, God is in us and we are in God. 1John, 4,16.

That's pretty simple and very profound stuff. What John is saying to me is that to be with God, in God, for God, no particular beliefs are necessary. No laws. No rules. No morality. Just love. We don't even need a belief in God.

Love means a relationship to at least one other and a very special relationship at that. A loving relationship, a sort of identity with the other, not as other, but as self. Not a thee or an it, but a thou. Not an object of negotiations or affections or thought or sexuality, but an originator of negotiations, affections, thinking, sexuality.

When I have this kind of relationship with another, we are entwined in a creative act because you are treating me and I am treating you, not as an object, but as another you, a person. When I am in a loving relationship with you, as a friend, a neighbor, or even an opponent, I am treating you with dignity, as a person, as an initiator of your own experience and your world and as a co-creator of our experience and our world.

The more persons and creatures we include in this kind of relationship, the more God is in us and we are in God.

No matter what we are focusing on, plans for a house or the city, a business deal, political events and choices, education of our children, financial planning, the latest discoveries of science, a good movie, our hopes and beliefs--we have a background experience of ourselves in relation as co-directors, co-creators, co-subjects, self-actualizing persons (Mazlow), Thous (Buber). That background experience is the frame and context for our words, statements, drawings, plans, and accounts.

The focus-object, articulated in words and formulas, is contained in the four dimensions of space-time. The background experience of relationality is the 5th dimension. It is "behind" the categories of space and time. It is the presence to the other as subject, unmediated by words. It is the unspoken, hidden, unobserved, uncategorized relation to yous.

The 5th dimension is love, connectivity, and the relational aspect of all things in space and time. Is "God" the name we traditionally called that background experience, the 5th dimension to space-time, the connection of all beings? Or is there a Being outside and separate to which that experience points, the Singularity, the Source, the Culmination, the Ground of connectivity, relationality, inter-personality? Is there a Transcendent even to transcendence, the non-objective presence and interaction of persons in relation?

I suppose we could posit a Separate Being out there distinct from the relationality of beings, a sort of Generator for the energy, rather than the relationality or energy of interaction itself. But I am not sure why that is necessary or even what that would mean.

I would rather affirm the 5th dimension, the relational, unspoken, pre-thematic dimension of what is spoken and objectified. The love dimension. The dimension of syntropy that balances-in-tension the entropic force of material things. This dimension is what we call spirit, consciousness, presence, interpersonal co-subjectivity, transcendence, no-thing. It is the dimension out of which all things appear in space and time. It is the dimension through which all our words and formulas and laws and propositions and beliefs and expressions make sense.

The ground experience on which figures appear has been called in French "conscience". Conscience means in English both "Consciousness," a kind of intuitive or direct, unmediated cognitive experience, and "Conscience", a kind of intuitive or direct, unmediated moral experience.

When I am acting I perceive a certain inter-subjective space that grounds our objective world (consciousness). When I am acting I experience also a direction or an intentionality of my action with and to others (conscience). Conscience is inter-action with others as co-actors. Conscience is interaction present to itself (knowing itself). Conscience is intentionality present to itself (appreciating itself).

Conscience is the foundation of objective knowledge--con-science. Conscience is the foundation of action with others in the world, conscience. It is the "inner, quiet voice" or "silent companion" that accompanies all our actions in society and in the world. It is the sense of being related to all in all, the sense of being present to every space-time, the sense of the eternal and the absolute in this fleeting instant. It is the sense of Love.

Love is the 5th dimension, the connectivity, the relational aspect of all objects, the source of all things, humanity and the universe transcending. Love perdures throughout space and time

That's it. Simple. I am using too many words. Be silent. Experience. Let be. Listen to the synergy surrounding us. See the luminous fibers conjoining us and all that is.

Interstellar, like Star Wars, is offering a new creation narrative for our post-modern, new-science culture. Neither of these would be called a religious film because they are not proselytizing any existing religion. Yet they are raising the question of the religious in our, what some would call, "post-religious" society. They point at the transcendence in our existence and offer hope.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

All Religion is Politics

I've been looking at Karen Armstrong's book, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, which I intend to read and maybe use to lead a discussion on the role of religion and politics by whatever means.*

Armstrong's book prompts many of the ethical questions I have been dealing with in this blog, e.g.:

1. Is war itself religious? She cites Chris Hedges whose book I read and found very insightful on the religious character of war.
2. The understanding of religion in neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. She discusses the three brains. But I also think of Paul Bloom’s “Is God an Accident?” and “Descartes Baby.”
3. Religion and the stages of human organization: hunter-gatherer, agrarian, industrial, digital. She deals with the pre and post modern concepts of religion. What do we mean by religion as we discuss politics and war?
4. Religion in the West—in US: Founding, Great Awakening, Manifest Destiny, Civil Religion. What are the doctrines, rituals, narratives of the present American religion and its relation to violence?
5. Notion of violence itself. We realize that violence is often necessary. Is violence justified, ever? Then legitimated and sacralized?
6. Use of religion for war; against war; in war. Pacification vs. Peacemaking?
7. Religion and ethics. Can we have an ethics without god, revelation—a natural ethics, a natural religion? Is all politics moral?
8. Separation of church and state, inseparability of religion and politics? Political theology for conservatives, for progressives.
9. Religion in culture. Is there an inevitable war between civilizations? How might we think about the Islamic State?
10. The meaning of power in religion and in politics. It's relation to and distinction from force and violence. Power creation as an alternative to violence. War as the death of politics.

*Clausewitz gave a dialectical definition of war as "the continuation of policy by other means."

Saturday, November 8, 2014

All Politics is Moral

In a reflection on the loss by Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections, George Lakoff remakes his excellent distinction between progressive and conservative moralities which ground diverse political languages, interpretations, and policies. I think his only mistake is to suggest an identity between progressive and the Democratic Party and between conservative and the Republican Party. I, on the other hand, see that not all D's are progressive and some R's still are.

Progressive morality considers freedom as a public good that has a higher priority and is a condition for liberty as an individual good. Conservative morality does not recognize the existence of a public good (as did Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan) or considers the common good or freedom as merely the sum of individuals at liberty to pursue private interests. See Lakoff's discussion of morality and politics here.

I often tell my Cousin Vinnie that his interpretation of the "facts," his view of history, his proposals for action are completely shaped by his values, his system of morality. As are mine. He doesn't acknowledge the role that values are playing in our view of reality and our hopes for the future. He calls me and others who consider themselves progressives as stupid or even evil. But the evil I see is precisely the subordination or identification of the public good to private interests. And the stupidity is in not recognizing the difference.

I do see the Democratic Party as the best vehicle today for my libertarian cultural, socialist economic, and republican political objectives. (Notice please small "l"  "s" and "r" as I have defined them elsewhere and constitutes my definition of "progressive.") But that was not, nor will it necessarily be the case. I have voted for many a progressive Republican and hope I would have been a Republican when Lincoln was chosen president. I have fought against many a reactionary Democrat in the North and the South. I remember that it was a fairly progressive Democrat who widened the Vietnam War, which I consider one the greatest tragedies my time, and against whom we had to organize. And in community organizing in Chicago, it was often Mayor Daley and his machine which we had to confront.

I hope that my fellow progressives will not be discouraged, will not become cynical and negative, will not become purist victims of some evil conspiracy, but will continue to act locally and nationally for progressive principles. Surprise! President Obama has clay feet and he never said otherwise. His message of hope in community was and still is right on the mark even though the reactionary rebels from the Southern confederacy have resurged in concert with large private interests of the North. And at bottom there are different warring moralities.

To quote Lakoff: Progressives and conservatives have very different understandings of democracy. For progressives, empathy is at the center of the very idea of democracy. Democracy is a governing system in which citizens care about their fellow citizens and work through their government to provide public resources for all. In short, in a democracy, the private depends on the public. . . .
Conservatives, on the other hand, have a very different view of democracy. For them democracy is supposed to provide them with the liberty to do what they want, without being responsible for others and without others being responsible for them. For them, there is only personal responsibility, not social responsibility. Indeed, providing public resources is, to a conservative, immoral, taking away personal responsibility, making people dependent, lazy, unable to take care of themselves. Removing public resources is seen as providing incentives, and individual liberty is seen as the condition in which you can carry out your incentives.

There is an international competition that has been going on for centuries, even millennia. It is not between sport teams (e.g. the Tories and Whigs, the Republicans and Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists) in which we take sides, place bets, and win and lose in various seasons. It is much more important than that. The question is whether our evolved capacity to empathy and see the other as ourselves can overcome our natural capacity to conquer the other whom we fear--the other clan, the other nation, the other race, the other religion.

Who will win that competition? It's a toss up and will be determined by our collective choice as to who we want to be. We together will choose not only through our political parties, but through our communities, churches, schools, and businesses and in our own personal approach to each other.

That's the morality in politics. We can look at it as a critical danger to be feared by our species in the light of global warming, corporate control, wealth disparity, oppression of women, Islamic statists, and military occupations. I prefer to see it, even in the past election, as a great opportunity to declare who we are and go for our common progressive future.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Four Faces of Evil (continued)

In the last blog, I identified four evils. I use them as "ideal types" to help explain, but not totally exhaust particular characters. The particular may range between, among, or beyond these types and are better described in narratives and other art forms.

The types help me understand a bit more the undermining of a democratic government in Guatemala by the United Fruit Company and its US agents. They help me understand why Iran is attempting to become a nuclear power. They help me understand why the US is distrusted and hated by many throughout the world. And they help me think about ethics in politics.

To identify a behavior or a character or an organization as evil is of course a judgment--an affirmation applying evidence using criteria (principles or standards) that distinguish what should be done from what should not. Where those criteria come from and what they are is the work of ethics. Some say they are self-evident by the general population and discoverable in their morality. Some say they are revealed by God by prophets and holy scripture. Some say they are to be found in nature through the understanding of the human animal in science and philosophy. Some say they are negotiated by persons in community--local, national, global--and articulated in laws.

And so we collectively develop and adopt codes of ethics to guide the behavior of nations, organizations, and professions. We argue to these codes based on an understanding of human nature informed by science including biology, psychology, and anthropology. In this effort we glean data from diverse cultures including our religions and moralities. And we appreciate the role of conscience, the awareness that accompanies a person's behavior.

What is common about the four types of evils I identified? Is there a definition of evil that underlies all of them? I think so and, not surprisingly, it comes from my ethics of integrity.

My own ethical theory is based on an analysis of human existence as a tension between being and non-being (to be or not to be is the tension) with many dimensions: four of which I propose are 1) the tension between inner subjectivity and outer objectivity, 2) the tension between individuality of self-personhood and the communality of society, 3) the tension between past and future, and 4) the tension between real and ideal. In the dynamic tension of existence arises the moral imperative, an awareness that accompanies (con-science) every conscious human act of the holding in tension across (trans) inner and outer, self and other, past and future, real and ideal.

Evil is the collapse of that tension in which inner awareness and exterior perception are destroyed by the refusal to think about what we are doing.

Evil is the collapse of the tension across individual personhood and the personhood of others by identifying the social and its good with our selves.

Evil is the collapse of the tension between past and future by denying history and its influences and being careless towards the future and the consequences of what we are doing now.

Evil is the collapse of the tension between the real and ideal by denying or acting as if there is no ambiguity and that we are absolutely right because our concept of reality is the ideal.

Evil finally is the denial of conscience and the refusal of transcendence in the flight from existence between being and non-being.

In each of the four types of evil that I identified (banal, pure, trivial, sincere) I discover a collapse of the tension of existence in one or more of its dimensions. Can you?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Four Faces of Evil

I always thought that Hannah Arendt's treatment of the "banality of evil" in Eichmann in Jerusalem was insightful. But now reading The Brothers for a class on John Foster and Allen Dulles, I realize the insufficiency of treating evil as banality. I suggest three other kinds of evil in human behavior.

Arendt's insight into Eichmann during his trial was that he was unthinking in his bureaucratic function for the Nazis in organizing the death camps for the Jews. If, in considering the Nazi phenomenon, she had written on the F├╝hrer Hitler himself and his key henchmen, I am sure she would have described them as the shapers of the policy much differently. And I think Hitler's Secretary Bormann represents an evil apart from both Hitler and Eichmann. And Field Marshall Rommel is completely separate.

1. The Banality of Evil is for the 95% of us who go along without noting the consequences for others or really caring about them. We just want to earn our living. It is to our interest to follow orders. We accept what we are told by the media and pass along our opinions without questioning them. We live the unexamined life. We accept the official version of history with its stereotypes and categories. We are patriotic. We behave and accept the prevailing morality that separates the good guys (us) from the bad guys (others) no matter what it is.

2. The Purity of Evil is practiced by the shapers and architects--those who have moved themselves into a position of uncontaminated power. They create, know, and promote the Truth. They are the Righteous who decide the Right. They are the True Patriots who teach what true patriotism is. They are the Saviors of Civilization and will use whatever means desirable to achieve their goals. The Enemy is anyone who obstructs or counters their vision of the True and the Right. They personally identify their success in power and wealth with that of their party or corporation or nation.

3. The Triviality of Evil is carried out by those who enjoy the game. They focus on their ability to make things happen for the Shapers by manipulating the Go-alongers. They are focused on winning whatever game they are called upon to play, knowing how to move the pawns, and even check the kings of the other side. The are comic figures. They are the strategists and the organizers who get a kick out of seeing things happen by their mechanizations which sometimes work, but often fail.

4. The Sincerity of Evil belongs to those who think, who understand consequences even those unintended, who have a sense of ambiguity about the world and its evil, and who could make a difference but choose to go along with the Shapers and Gamers. They think they just use, but are usually used by, the Shapers and Gamers. They are the ones about whom tragedies are written.

The Brothers by Stephen Kinzer is the story of how we got where we are today and especially how George Bush and Barack Obama were faced with and made terrible choices in regards to the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the US role in the world. The characters in this tragicomedy are John Foster Dulles who represents the Purity of Evil in his missionary zeal to make America the Jerusalem on the Hill that defeats all contenders. Allen Dulles represents the Triviality of Evil as the playboy womanizer gamer who loves to develop strategies that sometimes win and often lose, but certainly sets up the US as the mover and shaker of the world. Eisenhower (and Kennedy and Johnson to follow) represent the Sincerity of Evil, the "realists" who reluctantly buy into the world vision of Dulles and their plutocratic friends' (we call them both "neocons" and "neoliberals" today).

Then there are the publishers, the editors, the reporters, the politicians, the bishops, the professors, the managers of companies, labor leaders, the generals, and the rest of us who went along. Back to the Banality of Evil.

Yes, there were courageous theologians and clergy, students, labor leaders, artists who protested the vision and actions of the Dulles brothers and their circle of elite friends. Just as in Nazi Germany, Poland, and France. But hardly enough. And the American Century and American Exceptionalism was born to thrive and fall as is happening as I write.

(To be continued

  • what these evils have in common
  • how can we confront these evils
  • how ethics and politics connect)

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.