Follow by Email

Monday, August 24, 2015

Between Worlds

To Ta-Nehisi Coates:

I am erupting with reflections after reading Between the World and Me. I must release them before I explode. I wanted to address them to my 15 year old son, but he is now 38 and probably has heard enough from me. I told my grandson this morning that he must read your powerful memoir five years from now when he is 15.  He just returned with his siblings and parents from Guadeloupe, where his father was born, descendent of African slaves, with a tee shirt for me purchased from the new slave memorial there with the inscription "La memoire inspire l'avenir."

Our worlds are so different, you and I. I am old enough to be your father and, unlike you, registered by the census bureau as "white" or "Caucasian" despite my protest. Yet our worlds intersect dramatically.

I too was not born white; but unlike you I was made white by my parents, my neighborhood, my Catholic school, my church, and my nation. I did watch Tarzan and the Lone Ranger. I listened to Amos and Andy and Jack Benny's Rochester. Jesus was white and meek until much later when I witnessed the fall of Marcos in the Philippines and again when I met the Black Israelites on Chicago's Near West Side where I encountered the angry black Jesus. I learned the conventional, triumphant  history of the US until I read Howard Zinn, and then Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Richard Wright.

I grew up in a Jewish-Catholic neighborhood in Detroit. I remember descriptions of the Detroit race riots of 1943 that occurred five years after I was born. I remember when the kid next door made fun of a rarely seen black woman passing us on the side walk probably after cleaning someone's home. The kid who made fun, an Armenian whose family escaped the Turkish genocide, was almost as dark-skinned as she. But he was on his way to becoming white as most of the Irish in our parish had and as my parents from Italian and German immigrants had as well. All American Dreamers as you say.

I remember collecting funds for the missionaries in India and Africa there to save those poor, unfortunate people who were the white man's burden. Sometimes in my Catholic ghetto I felt that it was my vocation to do likewise. So I went to a Jesuit Novitiate. There we had one African American seminarian who left after one year. But we were taught Catholic social teaching and the importance of social justice for workers, the poor, and those left out of the largesse of our exceptional American society. Once when I was teaching in high school as a part of my training, I was commenting on the civil rights movement and the War in Vietnam and a student challenged me: "Mr Smith," he said, "you talk a good line, do you ever do anything about it?" He introduced me to a neighborhood of Black, Puerto Rican, and Appalachian people who were trying to organize themselves under the tutelage of Saul Alinsky in central Detroit. It was getting to know them when I experienced shame and anger. That changed my life.

When I went on for studies in Chicago, I decided to live first in the public housing community on the Near West Side and then in North Lawndale. That's where I learned what racism is and that I am a racist as is every person, black, brown, white, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, African, Asian, European, who is brought up in the United States of America. As you say so well, racism is the parent of race--not the other way around. And I learned that the US political economy is not only founded on racism, but still thrives on it. And I learned that so many of our wars are caused by the boundaries we defend against those "others" whom we fear will take away our things.

I saw in Chicago how urban renewal, even aided by the so-called war on poverty, appropriated lands for market development for rich people by clearing out poor people and warehousing them in fourteen story brick fortresses and blocks of closely built row houses. But it was especially in Lawndale where I gathered stories of upwardly mobile black families trying to escape a slum further east created a new one--or so they were told and thought. (Yes, as a young Jesuit, I worked with Clyde Ross whom you interviewed in your Atlantic article on reparations.) And I gathered stories of escaping white families who had weathered the immigrations of Italians, Greeks, two waves of Jews, and Irish even though "their kitchens smelled different," but who were told to get out fast as the last wave of immigrants from the South were moving in.

Those black families who moved in, even if they had a downpayment and a job, could not get conventional financing (the area was considered a mortgage risk by FHA and the banks), but had to pay twice as much as the house was worth and use a land installment contract that left them ownerless until the last payment was made and subject to eviction for missing a payment. It also meant they had to take in borders and defer repairs so that soon they were living in the same slum from which they had hoped to escape--and blaming each other. The white folks who were scared out were screwed too; but you know who they blamed--and still do.

I am doing some work in fast gentrifying Columbia Heights DC today and seeing long term black families being pushed out to Prince George County by a regional housing market controlled by wealthy financiers and would-be wealthy investors. Sort of a reverse carbon copy of the Lawndale practice. It just keeps getting more subtle. I have so many other stories in my experience in Chicago, Toronto, California, Cleveland, and Hawaii.

Fortunate and grateful I am that our children grew up in Hawaii where we haoles were a minority like everyone else. That kept them from becoming white. While attending college in Canada, my daughter met the man who became her husband born in Guadeloupe with a black African father. My grandchildren have US, Canadian, and French citizenship.

But having black friends, nephews and nieces, and son-in-law, campaigning to elect an African American president, and living and working in black neighborhoods are nice, but do little to counter racism. Nor does the knowledge that all humanity starts in Africa. It means nothing that I like black people and black communities as long as racism exists in my country. A country that was founded on slavery in an Empire made on slavery which ironically rejected slavery before my nation did. And my country still practices racism subtlety but effectively by controlling the "free" market and passing and policing the laws by which society can exert the violence that denies a person or a community dominion over their bodies.

Hilary Clinton recently in her advice to the leaders of Black Lives Matter was theoretically correct, but practically wrong. She is right to push the discussion from having a "good heart" to the policies and institutions that promote racism. Organize and use your power to change behaviors and gain respect. Forego being liked and changing hearts to achieve justice. But then who is she or any of us for that matter to give advice to these young people trying to build again a movement for equality. Yes, we can raise questions, but they should be to ourselves and as part of an inclusive search for justice.

I am no longer a member of the Jesuit order, nor even a Christian. Like you I accept and celebrate that we are our bodies and I no longer count on some supernatural entity, law, place, or reward.  However, I am grateful to the Jesuits for my social justice education and consider myself a companion of the Jesus of my imagination. I was taught to be detached from gaining wealth and I never felt the need or desire to pursue it beyond the basic needs of life. That took me out of the American Dream and for that I am grateful.

Whenever I am asked to identify my race or ethnicity, I refuse to put "white" or "Caucasian." I usually put "Euro-American" or "other." I do not want to be white even if the whole world says that I must.

I loved Hawaii, a land of minorities. I felt very welcomed; but I was never at home. The first Nation that was appropriated by first the British and then the Americans was very much in evidence. No matter how much I worked and earned, no matter how much of the land was used for US military bases that I supported by taxes in order to control the Pacific, I and my family were visitors of the hosts who were at home. And I never wanted to overstay our welcome. I was enraged to see so many native Hawaiians disproportionately filling the jails, fighting to sleep on the beaches, or turned out of their homes because of their inability to gain and pay US dollars.

Hawaii taught me to never be at home anywhere. I felt the same in First Nation territories (reservations!). I am now enraged that Senator McCain of Arizona, sanctioned by law but not by right, is taking public lands sacred to First Nations to give to Australian Mining companies. We moved a lot and I always felt that anywhere in this beautiful land from sea to shining sea, I am not at home. Every place I ever lived is land that has been appropriated, stolen fair and square. And not only native peoples but Mother Earth is rebelling. I sometimes feel at home in a national park hiking some wilderness path but only because, even then, I am on the move.

I am not at home even now in the place that I will probably die, chosen because I am close to my spouse, children, and in touch with a large network of friends with whom I am chez moi wherever they are on this earth. The advantage of living here is that I can hop the metro easily to add my body to the bodies of the First Nations, women, black lives matter, conservationists, voters rights advocates who come to the White House and Capitol to redress their grievances. In the cities of the world, DC, Chicago, Paris, London, San Francisco, Reykjavik, Nantes, I feel most alive and exhilarated, but not at home. I am not at home nor will I be in all this land as long as there are so many dispossessed persons with whom I identify.

But unlike you, I never had to feel fear. My rage often turned to depression, the feeling of my deepest incapacities, but not fear. I never feared walking through strange neighborhoods. Once when I was coming back late at night to my apartment in all black, segregated Lawndale walking from the Congress El, I saw four or five youths walking on the other side of the street. I knew they wondered what I was doing in their neighborhood. They turned to follow me. There was an instant of concern, but I looked down the street, waved and said "hi" to an imaginary friend. They turned and went on their way.

A few of us do-gooders were once beaten by a very disturbed young man. And Mrs Kirk, a tenant organizer, once made me hold her little pistol when we went to rescue her daughter from an deranged lover. I never had an incident when waiting by myself at the bus stop in what others would warn me is a "dangerous neighborhood." I loved being in the black community of Chicago and felt as safe there as anywhere else. This led me to consider the fear in the white community. The fear of the Dreamers. And maybe my own fear that leads to my depression at times.

I just visited two cousins by marriage who are big into the American Dream and who clearly fear the black man and especially black youth. They assert that they are self-made, up by the bootstraps men. Both are in their seventies. Both had to overcome the disadvantages of their youth by becoming white. One made it big and is worth billions (though he works hard and long to make more). The other just made it and is only worth millions (though he thinks that he is poor and needs more). Both are strong Tea-Party Republicans. I see both with their guns, their guards, their guarded homes as fearful people, which they would strongly deny.

I see their fear of losing their whiteness which they worked so hard to gain. Yes, it is motivated by greed. But I think looking within myself and the whiteness that I cannot simply wish away that it is often envy that causes our fear. Why do we love and appropriate your music, dance, and sometimes writing? Why are we so fearful that you will get ahead without becoming white and earning your way like we did? Why are we so afraid you will get advantages that we or our children will not get? Why do we deny our racism?

I loved living in the black community and cannot stay away from the black community even now. It is not the Jesse Jacksons, the Barack Obamas, the Cornel Wests, or even the Ta-Nehisi Coates with whom I love to consort. It is the tenants of Columbia Heights Village, the kids in the summer youth program, the folk in the black churches and U Street nightclubs. It is because we are so very poor, so very lacking in your experiences, spirituality, and Soul. Remember Soul.

I see black kids and hispanic kids becoming white. And I grieve. Because to become white, someone else has to be colored. But most of all because by becoming white we lose our Soul.

I am very grateful for letting me overhear your letter to your son. And I know my son and daughter will overhear our dialogue as well and someday my grandson.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Hope--Friend or Foe

As the universe winds down, I come back to hope.

Hope is the last addition to Pandora's Box--the one that remained when all of the evils and pains and fears flew out at humans when she opened it. Was hope a grace or just another curse like all the rest? A way out and beyond the evils of the world? Or a frustrating trap which kept humans within them?

Hope invites and invents belief: the gods, God, religion, pleasure, self-worth, drugs, cosmetics, body beautiful, universal knowledge, boundless sex, eternal soul, health and wealth, legacy and immortality. And dashes them to dust.

Is hope another trick of the gods, of the genes, of evolution, and the brain? Another illusion like the conscious self, the knowable world, and everlasting love?

I don't know for sure. And sometimnes when I think that I am thinking most clearly and honestly I am on the brink of despair--and hope. Depression, like paranoia, becomes a heightened state of consciousness. But then again, so does bliss and hope.

Hope, fine friend, you lead us along promising us salvation--or at least some meaning and reason to hang in there with the experiment of human life.

But we won't of course, fickle friend. We die, the sun dies, the universe dies. All your enticments are vanities vanishing. So we hope against hope. Maybe in somewhere beyond--outside nature, outside reality, outside the universe, outside life itself.

Yet we are told "faith, hope, love--but the greatest of these is love.

The past orientation of faith,
The future orientation of hope,
Are not, except in the presence
Of love, right now, here, with you.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Fat Lady Sings (in a hundred trillion years)

News flash. A new study just confirmed the theory that the universe is burning out. Scientists through careful measurement of over 200k galaxies haver confirmed that about half the fuel since the universe began has been expended. And the rest will be gone and the universe will be dead. It will be all over in a few hundreds of trillions of years.

Even though that's a few years after I will have been dead and even after the earth will have been destroyed in the sun's final death burst, it is still a bit disconcerting. Entropy wins! All is dust.

I dont really identify with my self, tribe, city, ethnic group, or nation; so its okay that they will go. I do however identify with my species; and so it pains me a bit to think that humanity, including the little bit I put into it, will not survive. I mean I imagined that by the time the earth was destroyed by the expanding, dying sun (or by humanity's silliness), we would have developed communities at least throughout our galaxy and maybe in other galaxies so the race would go on. Like in the movie Interstellar.

But the whole universe burnt out and dead! That's hard to take.

Well there is the multiverse theory. But wouldn't the laws of different universes be so different that they couldn't evolve or support humans? Maybe we can figure that out in time.

As ee cummings said: listen, there's a hell of a good universe next door: let's go.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Economic Mind

Ray Kurzweil in his newsletter promoted George Gilder's new book The 21st Century Case for Gold. Just scanning it and reading reviews, I find it a rehash of his Reagonomics inspired by the U of Chicago Milton Friedman school of free market capitalism but with information theory thrown in. He does criticize Friedman for considering the velocity of money as a constant as part of his critique of the monetarism or control of money by a Central Bank.

He spurns Keysianism (the control of spending) in which government spends on public works in the time of recession and then practices austerity in a time of boom. And he attacks mercantilism (the control of trade) in which governments set up barriers to trade for protecting national products or for social reasons. The point is 1) restrict the transiency of money by attaching it to gold (as long as it stays scarce) or to an algorithm in the case of bit coins and 2) keep government out (except for restricting the transiency of money and to protect free trade and markets).

He would not even consider socialism in which markets are regulated for social goals or in which government takes ownership of some industries to increase competition in the market. Nor does he distinguish between types of capitalism (e.g. German, American, Brazilian, etc). Any governmental effort to support or control markets simply works against the good of the greater number of people. Using tax policies, subsidies, and control of interest rates to support innovation, to foster new participants who have been left out, or to end poverty, he would contend does just the opposite. It actually suppresses innovation and drives wealth to the higher echelons.

I have not been trained in the dismal science. I have never taken even one course in economics and have done only sporadic reading in the subject. I have no expertise or authority to criticize the various schools of economics.

But being trained in philosophy and social science and being very well read in neuroscience, I am most aware how value perspectives influence what and how we see and understand "the facts."My value perspective comes primarily from who I choose to hang around with, who I care most about, whose respect I want the most, who I most empathize with, and whose eyes I want to see through.

I watched the Republican candidates for president last night. All said they would spend more on the military. All said they would repeal Obamacare without saying with what or if they would replace it or whether they would favor any universal healthcare program. All said they would decrease the size of government except for the military and building the wall to keep illegal refugees out. Many said they would reneg on the deal with Iran with the alternative of going to war. Many said they came from poor beginnings and had become successful; and all said that they cared about the poor who could not care for themselves. All were proponents of a militarily protected free market that did not include our enemies (e.g. Iran). None spoke about the earth, species extinction, climate change, and pollution except to say that they would curb or end the Environmental Protection Agency. Most claimed to be Christian following the will and commandments of God as revealed in the Scriptures.

Contrast that with Pope Francis. His value perspective is shaped by his own upbringing in Argentina, his practice of steering between laissez faire capitalism and state run socialism, by his theological and scientific studies, by his imagination of the.life of St Francis and Jesus of Nazareth, and most of all by his concern for the people he chooses to hang out with and who he cares most about--those whom Jesus called the "little ones," the culturally despised, the poor, the left behinds and Francis called "brother wolf" and "mother earth." It is through that lens that he judges the imperialism of the West and the successor empire of the United States. It is through the eyes of the poor, not the whiney middle class, that he judges the effects of an industrial economy that makes a commodity of air, water, and land and that makes the earth, the living beings of the earth, and human persons into objects that can be appropriated, used, and exploited.

Only from this vantage point can we see that Gilder's free market is a dangerous illusion. The free market is controlled by those who have the wealth, power, and military means to make it work to their advantage. The dogma of free market capitalism is propaganda by the nation state players angling to dominate the market to increase their personal wealth. It is supported by a myth and metaphors of American exceptionalism and its calling by God to rule the waves.

There are many business people and economists around the world who are experimenting with growing wealth through economic activity that is fairer, more inclusive, and cares most about bringing in the "left behinds." They call it "post" or "new" capitalism or "democratic socialism" or "cooperative economy." They do not yet constitute a powerful movement that threatens to overcome the so-called free market capitalist economy. But they have my support. They are the true innovators. And I hope the future. I will lobby for them at all levels of government and do my best to support the local organizing that will sustain and grow them.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Political Mind

George Lakoff is an unabashed Progressive Democrat who uses his expertise in cognitive science to advise political progressives to confront Republican conservatives who have been dominating the conversation. His insights are useful and based on good science. But I would argue that the political understanding and choice is not between conservative and progressive, as he says, but between naive (or direct) realism and constructive (or mediated) realism in both camps.

Lakoff relies on the experiments and findings of many neuroscientists to demonstrate that the rational mind of the "Old Enlightenment" has in fact a huge irrational or unconscious substratum of emotions, narratives, metaphors, and frames that shape the conscious ideas that seem so self-evident. He does a great job of showing how the different narratives determine the political language and policies of both progressives and conservatives. There is the "Christian nation" narrative in tension with the "melting pot" and "indigenous ancestor" narratives. The is the "war is noble" narrative in tension with the "avoiding foreign entanglements" and "peace on earth" narratives. There is the "family farm" narrative in tension with the "industrial or corporate America" and the "working class" narratives. There is the "manifest destiny" narrative in conflict with the "colonial expansionist" and "pacification of savages" narratives.

He argues that conservatives use the "strict parent" frame demanding obedience to universal natural (not necessarily man-made) rules and up-by-the-bootstraps pedagogy. And liberals or progressives are more into the "nourishing parent" frame that provides means to people along with a pedagogy that opens options. Therefore liberals see conservatives as authoritarian, blamers of the poor, tough on mistakes, and task masters in line with a social-Darwin or Calvinist line of winner take all. And conservatives see liberals as promoters of a "nanny state," weak on crime, unable to fight enemies, and as indecisive losers aligned to losers in line with a passive Christianity or new age spirituality.

While conservatives see health-care as insurance that needs to be earned, liberals see health care as a basic protection that society should provide all citizens like protections from a foreign foe, from violent criminals, or from epidemics. One is a strict father: do it on your own, kid! One is a nourishing parent: let me help you get what you need in order to make it in the world. Each perspective engenders a different morality, one that stresses authority and righteousness, the other that stresses empathy and forgiveness.

Lakoff advises that in political conversation, we need to see the frames and narratives that are often hidden from view and use different narratives and frames. He also counsels a new consciousness or a "New Enlightenment" that recognizes the non-rational elements in perspectives and policies and avoids the 18th century rationalism of universal natural laws, self-interest as a driver of behavior, and impersonal logic.

Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind) also tries to show the difference between the liberal/progressive and the libertarian/conservative by identifying six moral pillars that are wired in  the brain but stressed differently by the two camps. Here is my diagram of his thesis.

I believe that Lakoff and Haidt complement each other.

But my argument with both of them is that the crucial difference in ethics and politics is not between conservatives and progressives. Lakoff himself says that we face misunderstanding when we imagine a left-moderate-right spectrum. My own experience shows that life itself, beginning with the cell, needs to at times hold back and conserve the boundaries and at other times to open those boundaries and let in the new. In politics at the local level, e.g. organizing in the neighborhood, workplace, congregation, or classroom, the astute and experienced organizer knows when to conserve and when to progress. Saul Alinsky would always confront righteous lefties by insisting that community organizing is a conservative action because it conserves families, neighborhoods, institutions, and the earth itself.

It is often demagoguery, usually an oversimplification, and always risky to divide people into two camps.  But I will take that chance in my philosophy in dialogue with neuroscience by making the
distinction between the naive realist and constructive realist, or as we used to say in scholastic philosophy between univocal and analogical ways of knowing.

We are born naive realists. We are led by our caregivers to attend to things in the world by seeing, hearing, feeling and especially by language. We assume that what we see, everyone sees. It is just a matter of looking at things as they appear. How they appear, they are. Our first language which focuses on things through words which signify real things is the true language; and as we grow up and learn that there are other languages, we know that they are merely translations of the primordial language. A "chair" is a chair. Obvious.

But then perhaps our caregivers, our teachers, even our religious counselors point out that there are other valid ways of discovering and making our world. We learn from the inside-out other languages and cultures, different narratives for understanding the world, and many different art forms. We learn the art of interpretation and criticism. And we learn that no matter how different people talk or see or
worship, we can, to a limited extent, enter into their minds and see the world as they are seeing it. If we are liberally educated, we learn history and science and how they have developed over time. We learn that the new science progresses through changing paradigms and models. And if we are fortunate enough to learn evolutionary biology and neuroscience, we learn that there is no fixed reality out there, but a booming, bubbling mass of waves and particles of information which our brain has evolved to pattern in communication with other brains through analogies, metaphors, narratives, and models.

The main struggle in personal life and in society, I argue, is not between a conservative vs progressive mind, not between the political left and political right. I know there is a difference in that a conservative is focused on conserving institutions while progressives are focused on developing new ones, that conservatives are focused on limited spending while progressives are focused on investment to achieve fiscal responsibility, that conservatives are more focused on personal responsibility to help society and progressives on social responsibility to help individuals. These are
good tensions in a political debate.

But the most important struggle is between the naive realist univocal mind-set we are born with and the constructive realist analogical mind-set to which we must be educated.

I remember a pastor saying to his congregation that the problem with ordinary Catholics is that they have not progressed beyond the dogmas of the catechism. Theology is applying critical thinking to all the doctrines of the Church. Religious education and thinking he said does not end in Catholic grade school or Sunday school.

My Tea-Party Cousin Vinnie has little in education to question an absolutist univocal mind that cannot understand how people just don't see "the way things really are." He gets all his information and opinions from Fox News and talk radio which he considers as straight talk. He has no use for science when it does not conform to his economic doctrine or to common sense. In his eyes, true
belief and morality is under attack by the liberal elite establishment often centered in universities and government.

And my ardent socialist friend, under a faulty interpretation of Hegelian Marxism, believes that history is on "their side," that progress for all measured in economic terms is assured, and that capitalism will inevitably fall. The Revolution will culminate that fall. In the 1970s, while I was very active in the civil rights and end the War in Vietnam movements, I published an article criticizing elements of the New Left for adopting and advancing that absolutist approach

The struggle is between thoughtfulness and thoughtlessness, critical thinking and dogmatism, reflective wisdom and conventional wisdom, faith and belief, ethical behavior and utilitarian morality within both the left and the right, progressives and conservatives. There are thoughtful conservatives like John Kekes and Francis Fukuyama who rethink and refine their positions unlike those pundits
who are paid to be doctrinaire like Charles Krauthammer and Anne Coulter. There are thoughtful progressives who rethink and refine their positions like Robert Reich and Jonathan Haidt unlike pundits that reflect a more doctrinaire liberalism like Bill Maher and Rachel Maddow.

Evil is not either conservative or progressive as so many of those strident appeals for money say. But evil often stems from the failure to learn and grow in wisdom as defined by Socrates as an examined life and knowing that we do not know with certainty. Racist Klansmen, anti-Catholic know-nothings, intolerant religionists, haters of those who are different, uncritical dogmatists, macho militarists, despisers of the weak, so-called terrorists or freedom fighters, violent revolutionaries, proletariat dictatorships, true believers, namers and blamers, these are representatives of an evil mind and behavior. As parents and as a society we have a responsibility to assist them and each other to grow up.

Whether they are personally responsible or not, the immature and destructive behavior of naïve realist
pundits and politicians must be confronted. And for earth's sake don't vote for them.



Monday, August 3, 2015

Jerusalem

Jerusalem. City of shalom--sacred to Jew, Muslim, Christian who say they worship the same God--Yahweh, Allah, Abba of Moses, Jesus, Mohammed.

I listened to an interview today of Yossi Klein Halavi--born in Brooklyn, settled in Israel, journalist, contributor to the New Republic, participator in inter-religious dialogue, bright, moderate, educated.  I understand why there is no progress for peace. He knows that fact is always interpreted and interpretation shapes facts. Yet he is so fixed in his interpretation. It is one thing to have identity situated in tradition; and yes historical interpretation--and to appreciate, assert, affirm that identity. But it is another to absolutize that interpretation--as I feel he does without critical challenge. If he cannot get past his interpretation, how can the orthodox, the keepers of the fundamentals?

He hopes for the transcendent--an event that changes minds and hearts. He thinks that now that there is a widening nonreligious or secular space, the religions will have to come together just to defend the religious over against the secular. But whose interpretation?  Yes, shame on Jews, Christians, Muslims who war for their God as they interpret Him against their God under someone else's interpretation. I think Yossi is a sign of the problem--the liberal religious who subjects the polis, the City, to a religious interpretation.

Jerusalem will only be sacred when it is ruled by no man's interpretation--when it is an open city, a place for sharing opinions which no one holds absolutely.

And so will New York, Istanbul, Detroit, Cairo, Rome, Moscow, Tel Aviv, Beijung, and all cities, towns, and villages. The secular is the place of the sacred. Secularize bravely!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Blasphemy

We listened to an interview on NPR with Nick Tosches on his new novel Under Tiberius.

"A work of dangerous and haunting beauty by America's last real literary outlaw. Under Tiberius is a thrilling story of crime and deceit involving the man who came to be called Jesus Christ. Deep in the recesses of the Vatican, Nick Tosches unearths a first-century memoir by Gaius Fulvius Falconius, foremost speechwriter for Emperor Tiberius. The codex is profound, proof of the existence of a Messiah who was anything but the one we've known -- a shabby and licentious thief."

We ordered it of course. I don't think I'll send it out as a Christmas present to my Christian family and friends. They would be scandalized. If this were about Mohammed, there would be a fatwa against the author (which proves to me that most Christians are not idolaters and understand metaphor)

In the interview Tosches said he was exploring which came first--good and evil or the gods. It's another way of asking my question of the relation between morality and religion. My sense from the interview is that Tosches believes that religion brings evil into the world without which there would be no awareness of good. The interviewer intervened , "but I have seen nuns and priests who have given up their lives for others." Oh yes, said Tosches, but that's the way they are. They did that not because of religion, but because of their goodness.

The interviewer asked Tosches about the darkness of his vision of humanity. "Isn't there a place for hope?" Yes, of course, he responded. Hope is an illusion of our evolved brain. But it is an important illusion for the survival of humanity and perhaps of spirit.

I was reminded of the story of Pandora who opened the box manufactured by the gods and let out all the evils that were placed within by the gods. What was left however was hope. Perhaps an illusion. But one it is in our power to make a reality.