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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Homo Transcendens

Is the future of our species to be gods? That's what Yuval Harari is saying in his new book Homo Deus. By "god" he means immortal life, unending happiness, and infinite knowledge. Heaven on earth.

In Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Harari traced human evolution from the Cognitive Revolution at the beginning of the species as hunter-gatherers to the Agricultural Revolution and the rise of civilizations to the Industrial Revolution and into the Age of Information. In Homo Deus: A Brief History of the Future, he takes up the account and suggests where it may be going. It is a great story he is telling. A lot of it isn't new, but how he gathers the research and findings and tells it, is new, instructive, and suggestive for our personal and collective consideration.

Prelude it with Stephen Hawkins Brief History of Time, or an update by Lawrence Krauss (The Greatest Story Ever Told--So Far) including his story of the quantum fluctuation that birthed the Universe, and with Richard Dawkins the Selfish Gene, and we have a good rendition of the overarching myth, the extended metaphor, which gives meaning and direction to all us residents of the world in late modernity.

Cooperation among many became the crucial strategy for survival that humans shared with many other species. The genetic change that provided humanity with the ability to fashion and use images to identify, classify, and anticipate things and events in the world led to a most efficient means of cooperation and control of the environment. The exercise of thinking, communicating, and acting through categories and analogies, starting with mimetic and verbal gestures or language is the cognitive revolution that distinguishes homo sapiens. Knowledge through thinking and sharing thoughts intersubjectively through language and symbols gave humans power over their environment. Fo good and for ill. Such knowledge requires shared meaning among the members of the cooperating group. As Harari states, "meaning is created when many people weave together a common network of stories."

A clan or extended family has its own network of stories giving the origins, traditions, admonitions, and rules that hold the clan together for life's needs and survival of the group. The move to agriculture and civilization requires mass communication and an overarching story that underlies all clan and village traditions. Such a story provides the basis for order among various groups and classes of people by occupation and by function in the formation and preservation of the civilization. Industrialization is compatible to that story. And now advanced technology along with artificial intelligence is our history of the future.

Or is it? Might we create a different story than the one laid out by Harari and his technical informants? Are we willing to accept the increased inequality that would occur as those with means afford the designer babies and added implants to surpass those who could not or would not?  Do we want immortality, infinity, and eternal life?  If the old do not die, will creative innovation be killed. Will denying and overcoming death lead to stopping new birth and possibility? Are we substituting a boring commonality, a matrix or hive, for a vital and dynamic community? Instead of "weaving together a common network of stories," are we restricting ourselves to one story? If imperfections and limits are conditions for individuality, distinctiveness, and even relationships, will we sacrifice them for eternal bliss? How blissful will that eternity be? By denying death and our existence as being-towards-death and so becoming homo deus, do we lose our existence as homo transcendens?

And is that the final Faustian Devil's bargain by which the human experiment is ended?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Faith in the Republic

Faith, Aquinas said, is a virtue, i.e. a habit of my being, a voluntary attitude and activity. I will not confuse it with my beliefs, the doctrinal content or expression of faith. Beliefs are given, provided by my upbringing and culture. Faith I will when I will to be. I do not need to hold any thing I have been told to have faith. I do not need to have a religion, to believe in God, in holy books or church teachings. I do not need to believe the priests, the theologians, the politicians, the philosophers, the deal-makers, the scientists, the successful. Faith has me listen and explore their thoughts, words, and actions to develop my own beliefs in dialogue with them and others. I do not have a faith, i.e. a particular belief system. I choose faith when I choose to grow my soul. Faith is the habitual attitude and act of being open to experience, of listening to the past, engaging the present, and intending the future. Faith in the past, hope in the future, and love here and now--but the greatest of these is love. Faith is not the words we profess or the rites we enact. Faith is the  expanding of consciousness even to the transcending consciousness of all, the Spirit of the Universe. I am faithful and hopeful when I abide in love.

And this is why the Republic must separate Church from State by declaring freedom for and from religion. The unity and cohesion of the Republic is not religion, not a set of beliefs and customs, not a culture and ethnicity. The unity of the Republic is in faith which is made possible in the public space--a safe place set aside for all persons as equals to speak and act in concert, to grow their souls and expand their consciousness in intercommunion. It is a place of power, freedom, and transcendence. Religious life and institutions can help, but cannot substitute for that public place. And they hinder when they attempt to do so.

The virtuous faithful act in the Republic is the political act of organizing safe places for the love of neighbor to emerge and flower.





Monday, August 7, 2017

Three thoughts on theology

I had three thoughts while running today that I must write down to go past them.

1. Earlier, I was returning to the thought of John Courtney Murray for some guidance.  I read an article by a Jesuit theologian about Murray in Theological Studies (a periodical I haven't read for about 40 years). The article was very well informed, reasoned, and written, citing many theologians including Augustine, Aquinas, Rahner, Lonergan and others. Much to my chagrin I understood it--but only by putting on a now distant thinking cap. I realized in my running meditation that this was a language game that I was no longer playing, nor had I any wish to play.

2. Thinking of Thomas Aquinas, I remembered the legend that had been told about him. After he finished the Summa Theologica, the sum and summation of all theological inquiry, he threw it on the ground and said: "it is all grass." I thought of three interpretations: 1) Even grass, though low on the food chain, nourishes. Think of all the great books inspired by his work. 2) Thomas had the postmodern insight that there is no certainty and that all scientific inquiry is at the beginning of infinity (David Deutsch). 3) Thomas has a glimmer of vision into the Beatific Vision of God and realized how inadequate were words, symbols, and all human expressions. (That's the interpretation of most Thomists and is not unlike the second.)

3. Thinking of God, I recalled and sang my favorite verse from John: "God is love and we who abide in love, abide in God and God in us." And I asked myself: Do I love enough to let all my images, names, thoughts, and beliefs of gods and men go? And do I love enough to let all of my self go, immortality and distinctiveness, reward and punishment, fear and anger, grandeur and puniness, possessions and even relationships? Do I love enough to be absorbed totally by love? No god, no self, only Love.

Francis's Church and Trump's State #4

What makes up a person?  What makes up a people? Stories.

We are our stories. Everything and all reality are relationships--from the tiniest atom to the universe as a whole. And so are we. A person is a complex of all the events of her past, the present relationships she now enjoys, and the future relationships she intends. This includes the relationships she remembers and those she doesn't. Relationships within her being and relationships between her being and others--even to the transcending consciousness or spirit of all reality.

An absolute implies total self-sufficiency, an absence of relationships. I refuse to believe in absolutes. I affirm the totality of relationships--which is love. I identify myself and others by our relationships. I declare my vocation to discover, create, and maintain relationships. This begins by sharing stories with one another. It proceeds by creating safe places for all to share their stories and create new ones together. It culminates in love of neighbor and faith in our shared abilities to live, have meaning, and respect one another without absolutes. And it never ends.

Stories are the accounts of events of our relationships. Remembering and telling them gives us a sense of belonging or meaning: our meaning on earth and in the universe, our meaning in society and in history, meaning in our clan, our state, our civilization, our world. And we are meaning-driven beings. Narrating of stories requires interpretation. And interpretation is colored by perspective, interest, values.  An interpretation derives from one's faith in, hope for, and ultimately love of others.

There are two narratives vying for national identity in the American Republic. One is more exclusive and thickens the boundaries between relationships. Another is more inclusive and loosens those boundaries. This is life we know where if a cell to protect itself, tightens its outer membrane to prevent any foreign newcomers including nutrition, it dies. But if it loosens it membranes so much that it admits toxic substances, it also dies. In ancient and medieval times, cities and states built walls to provide safe spaces for people to live. And in republican times and places, to act in concert.

But the closed boundary narrative dominating American life today is that of nationalist populism (The Bannon-Trump story) will I believe destroy our Republic. It divides us into warring factions of the deserving and unworthy, of us and them, of believers and unbelievers, of acceptable and an unacceptable beliefs, customs, religions, languages, life styles, sexual orientations, professions, and standards of success. This narrative is critiqued at length in the above referenced essay in compliance with the thought of Pope Francis. This narrative is discerned to be a manifestation of "apocalyptic Manichaeism," the "gospel of prosperity," a perversion of religious liberty, and a fundamentalist ecumenism between traditionalist Catholics and dominionist evangelicals that promotes fear and anger, crusade and terror, xenophobia and spiritual war.

The second narrative, consistent with Francis and Vatican II, is a clear distinction between culture, religion, and politics. "Francis wants to break the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church. Spirituality cannot tie itself to governments or military pacts for it is at the service of all men and women. Religions cannot consider some people as sworn enemies nor others as eternal friends. Religion should not become the guarantor of the dominant classes. Yet it is this very dynamic with a spurious theological flavor that tries to impose its own law and logic in the political sphere."

The first narrative places the unity of the Republic in culture and religious observance. The second places the unity of the Republic in political faith guaranteeing yet beyond private beliefs. The authentic spirituality in all religions, that which supports inclusion, compassion, and love of neighbor serves that political faith without dominating it.

And so while not yet a spiritual war or a Manichaean apocalyptic moment, we are in crisis--that is, at a point of decision. Which narrative is correct?  Which will win out? It's a crap shoot--a wager. One like Pascal wrote about. But not so much as a Faustian Bargain or a game theory exercise. It is our collective decision that will put the weight on one side or the other. We the People will write our story.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Francis's Church and Trump's State #3


Here is an expression of the American Principle: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Called the American "idea," it is also a Unitarian Universalist and mainline American Protestant idea. And thanks largely to John Courtney Murray, it is a Catholic idea adopted at Vatican II. The principle has many other expressions outside of diverse cultures and religions. Can this principle be a source of unity and consensus for America and indeed for the world? Yes, indeed it can, I affirm.  Does such unity and consensus exist in America? The answer is No. And we are more divided than ever, a state that threatens the American "idea."

But allow me to consider the American principle as intentional as opposed to this principle as literal. That is the difference between human existence as experienced in action and human existence as expressed in words, stories, and other media. 

For example, take the expression above. Taking this principle literally could mean that I believe in a supernatural entity, a Creator God, and creationism over evolution as the explanation of life? It could mean that I agree that all persons are in fact equal, that there is no oppression, domination, or slavery? It might mean that I affirm that all persons have the same qualities, opportunities, advantages, gifts, and intelligence? 

Rather I take this statement to get to the principle it is intending. What this statement is getting at is not an accomplished, static, objective fact of equality, freedom, and justice in America, but rather an aspiration that I experience in my own intentional existence, in my desires and drives for wholeness as a human person in America and the world. 

The ancients identified three fundamental drives or desires: the desire to live, the desire for meaning, and the desire for recognition which correspond to the economic, cultural, and political dimensions of humanity. Others cut it differently. For example, the psychologist Abraham Maslow identified up to 7 human needs towards self-actualization. But the point is not the number or label or even rank of these needs or desires, but the dynamism of human beings, personally and collectively, to be all that we can be. 

This returns us to an earlier distinction between faith and belief. Faith is the dynamism that impels us to critique and transcend the beliefs that are expressions of faith. We can share the same faith while expressing different beliefs--which theologians call the content of faith. When the symbols of our faith are confused with our faith as transcending existence, e.g. wearing flag lapel pins, hanging a cross, saying "Merry Christmas," carrying guns, praying, singing the national anthem or hymns, these symbols become idols of worship.

The American Principle, however expressed and lived, is intentional and so perhaps doomed to be disappointed in certain concrete times and places. It is a political principle, not cultural content. The principle is power, the ability to act in concert, creating safe public space, which defines our human being in the world. That dynamic principle can unite us. It makes us a nation.  It makes each of us citizens of the nation and citizens of the world. 

John Courtney Murray teaches that this principle is founded on "natural law," by which he means the nature of humanity with all our needs, drives, and desires. Natural law transcends any particular national, religious, cultural, economic, or even political expression. It is this law which we as citizens try to live out and act by even within our inadequate expressions. 

Natural law stands in judgment of our behavior and expressions. Even natural law is not absolute but develops as our species develops. And how we understand natural law develops as we grow in knowledge and wisdom.

In your religion, you may hold that natural law was promulgated by God when he created nature. Or you may not. But, in any case, nature is accessible by humans through observation, reflection, and verification. Faith, whether religious or not, is the drive of human existence to transcend. And whether religious or not, we humans can share that faith and become one even as we are many. That is the American idea. 


Next: In Francis's Church and Trump' State #4, I will try sum up by showing why the Trump-Bannon policy based on assimilation beliefs threatens human being and Francis's policy based on pluralism in faith that transcends cultural beliefs. 



Francis's Church and Trump's State #2

Metaphors matter. It's how we set up categories and analogies to organize the environment we confront. In other words, it's how we think. And how we think influences how we act.

Pope Francis's stone soup or rainbow pluralism which is taught in Vatican II and which is founded in Thomas Jefferson's teachings on religion in America leads to a much different policy approach than does the Trump-Bannon melting-pot assimilation approach. Which is true and right? It will be the one we choose based on our experience and understanding of human existence and transcendence. We the people will make the difference.

As I ended my preceding blog: Whether we choose melting-pot assimilation or rainbow pluralism will make a tremendous difference for the future of the nation and the world. Thinking that choice through requires some distinctions: one being between public and private related to politics and culture; another being between principles as literal and principles as intentional.

Hannah Arendt is the expert on the public/private distinction. The public realm is the space where citizens gather as equals to speak and act to decide the shape and boundaries of the polis--the ancient Greek city-state from which our word "politics" derives. It is the space of power (over force or oppression) which is defined as the ability to act in concert. It is also the space of freedom where citizens leave the realm of necessity and coercion determined by life's needs. 

That realm of necessity is the household (Gk economia) from which is derived our word "economy." The political realm supports, protects, but also regulates the private realm of family life and industry which is subject to the public realm or common good. 

In ancient Greece and Rome, there were the state gods celebrated in the public temples in the stories of Homer, Virgil, and all the myths. There were also the household gods, those that were celebrated in private by families and tribes. Religion thus was a means of both unity and diversity. Unity of the state through the public religion and of diversity through the household and tribal ceremonies. Religion, therefore, also became a point of conflict within and between civilizations and nations. 

In Jeffersonian America, all religions belong to the private sphere. Religions, their expressions, practices, and institutions are chosen and practiced in private. As are all cultural styles, attitudes, and fashions. The public sphere and the major institution of that sphere, government, protects privacy and its institutions. At the same time, the public sphere ensures that religious or other cultural practices and institutions do not dominate. They are not allowed to reduce the ability of persons to choose and celebrate their own personal affairs, styles, and expressions in private--whether at home, business, church, or marketplace. 

Nor can any citizen be restricted from entering the political arena as equals to debate and deliberate the contours of public space. In fact, that is the nature of citizenship. A citizen is a person who takes some time to relinquish his privacy to appear before others to speak and act for the common good, i.e. for the public space itself. A citizen is a person who, for a time, surrenders and subjects her own cultural, ethnic, linguistic, religious, sexual, financial, and professional preference to the public space in order to discern the good of others and of the whole. 

What unites citizens in the public space is not culture, religion, language, or fashion. It is a principle to which citizens adhere--a principle expressed in different and changing words and rites, like liberty, happiness, justice for all, That principle is the public space itself and derives from our very human existence. 

But I'll try to explain that in the next blog.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Francis's Church and Trump's State #1

The essay in La Civilta Cattolica by two of Pope Francis's confidantes has drawn a line among American Catholics. Once considered to be settled through the deliberative process of the Second Vatican Council, the breech between the religion of traditionalist American Catholics allied to fundamentalist evangelical religions that support Bannon-Trump and the solution brokered by Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray at Vatican II has been exposed. (See for instance Ross Douthat's column and comments in the NYT.) 

The essay representing Francis's thinking and negative commentators representing Trump-Bannon thinking not only help American Catholics understand their choices, but also all Americans of every religion or of none at all. 

1) We can choose a "melting pot" or assimilation policy approach which assumes a right culture and religion and, I would add, economy. Or 2) we can choose a "stone soup" or "rainbow" pluralism policy approach. 

1) The assimilation metaphor shapes Trump's latest plan to restrict immigration to those who speak good English, have wealth and education, and can fit into American society. It is also the dominating image for the white supremacist language of many of Trump's followers. It is the choice of those like Attorney General Sessions who fight against affirmative action which they call "reverse discrimination." It is also the choice of those evangelical fundamentalists who preach that the USA is a Christian country with the Judeo-Christian God at its head and the revealed word of God in the Bible as the ultimate arbiter for law and morality and even scientific truth. It is also the choice of constitutional literalists like Mitt Romney who believes that the words of the constitution were inspired by God and of many jurists who do not understand the metaphoric nature of speech at all. 

It is also the metaphor of traditionalist Catholics (like Douthat, Ryan, and Bannon) who are nationalists, who promulgate the America First rhetoric, who place America's exceptionalism in its past or present achievements, rather than its aspirations for the future, and those who focus their attention on opposition to abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism which they consider to be cultural perversions and religious depravities caused by a permissive society and liberal education.

2) The pluralistic metaphor is traced back to Thomas Jefferson who, desiring to avoid the religious wars that ravaged Europe, made a clear distinction between the private sphere of culture, including religious behavior and expression, and the public sphere of politics. Jefferson promoted what became known in the 1950's as the "civil religion" which stood apart from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other confessional religions that people professed in their churches, temples, and holy books. 

In the 1950s, sociologist Will Herberg wrote that one could be an American by being Catholic, Protestant, or Jew because these religions had accepted the American social contract in their own professions. In describing the status quo, he spoke of a triple American "melting pot," thus legitimating becoming American by participating in one of these three religious ways. This conventional wisdom underlined President Eisenhower's council that America is founded on a deeply-felt religious Judeo-Christian faith "and I don't care what it is." 

This is not exactly the pluralism of Jefferson who, while attracted to the morality of the Jesus in the gospels purged of their supernatural superstitions, also accepted Muslims, non-religious Deists, agnostics, and even atheists as Americans. Many of the founders of the USA were not Christian but Deists (George Washington) or Unitarians (John Adams), who did not profess the divinity of Christ and other Christian doctrines and indeed dismissed all religious doctrines. The right of religious freedom that was inserted into the Constitution meant that a good citizens could practice any religion they wanted or none at all.

And since that "golden age" of post WWII, which contemporary reactionaries nostalgically reconstruct, a lot has happened. The US has become global in all spheres; the cold war against Soviet and Maoist communism has ended with a new one against Russian and Chinese expansionism beginning;  Mormonism, Buddhism, Indigenous Spirituality, and especially Islam are on the American scene; the women's, the civil rights, and the LGBT rights movements have achieved general acceptance in American society.  All of which have had tectonic effects on American culture and even the economy. Including the reaction of the Trump-Bannon base.

Whether we choose melting-pot assimilation or rainbow pluralism will make a tremendous difference for the future of the nation and the world. Thinking through that choice requires some distinctions: one being between public and private related to politics and culture; another is principle as literal and principle as intentional.

But I will deal with that in my next blog

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Interpreting the American Religion

The American civil religion is the shared, collective faith that drives our politics.This public faith is expressed in propositions and behaviors. It is not to be identified with those expressions and behaviors; but it can be discerned through them. And it needs to be carefully distinguished from the private realms of family and tribal culture and economy, e.g. the household religions.

When you take the words that most Americans say express the civil religion, much depends on their interpretation in any given time or place. As Hannah Arendt has taught: "the pursuit of happiness" meant originally "public happiness"--space where all can appear, express themselves, and be respected. A place where common good is sought over private profit. Those who make private wealth the indicator of happiness, who put economy over politics, and measure goodness by private virtue misunderstand those founding words. Personal happiness is achieved most fully in public happiness.

"Liberty" means the absence of tyranny, compulsion, or violence. But that is only the negative side of "freedom." Freedom is not the absence of limits, of small government, and of reduced regulations. Freedom is power. And power is not domination and control by force. Power is the ability to act in concert to shape our social environment. There is no freedom without limits; but those limits are set through the democratic process in which everyone's dignity is affirmed.

Justice means "right order." For some it means a hierarchy where the wealthiest, the most well born, the most physical, the most beautiful, the most celebrated have the most influence. But justice can also mean rule of law and law designed to recognize the potential of every person and the right of every person to have whatever needed to actualize the potential to be fully human and happy.

Another foundational principle is expressed as "we the people." This is the principle that we are all in this together, that even our creative individuality is determined by our participation in community, that our collective will takes precedence over our personal self interest. It is an affirmation of our responsibility to, with, and for each other.

Our faith in these principles, again not as actually achieved, not as fixed beliefs, but as aspirations which arise from our collective experience of our human potential, is what unites us. That faith in future possibility is what makes us American. Yes, we are condemned by our hypocrisy, by our selfish greed, by our small mindedness, and the cowardness that puts immediate gratification over public good, by winning personal battles when losing our national soul. But when we acknowledge our shortcomings, our hypocrisies, our lack of being exceptional, and yet go on persuing our disappointed aspirations, then we are most exceptional.

Those, who most vehemently profess American exceptualism as we are have been, are the ones who most deny American exceptualism for who we might be. The faith that unites us is not expressions of being better than others, not accomplishments and claims of being superior. It is our drive to do and be better, to actually take responsibility for achieving freedom, justice, and happiness for all.

Next: in defense of political correctness and identity politics.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

American Faith and American Belief

If you know me, you know that the key distinction that I make, when talking about religion or theology or the spiritual dimension of anything we do, is between faith and belief. The confusion of these two concepts is responsible for a lot of trouble in our lives and world.

I know, I know. A lot of people use them as synonyms and you will see in most dictionaries they are defined by each other. But it is so very important to distinguish the two.

I am trying to distinguish (not separate) the act of speaking from the spoken word, the uttering from the utterance, the thinking from the thought, the knowing from knowledge, the expressing act and the completed expression.  One is subjectively perceived, the other objectively perceived.

But besides act and expression, I am also trying to distinguish between creative speaking and secondary speech. When I just prattle on saying what everyone else is saying, I'm hardly moving the conversation forward or exploring new avenues of thinking. But when I take what you are saying, relate it to what others have said, and even get new insights to put in other words, then I am co-initiating with you, adding different perspectives, opening up to future understandings.

Faith is the dynamic and transcending feature of creative expressive activity. It includes decision-making, expressing into the world of others, and the subjective or lived experience of so doing. Faith is an openness beyond the present beliefs--mine and yours. Faith is an adventure, a risk towards the unknown, an drive to the future. It doesn't get stuck in its this-time-and-place expressions. It is transcendence in human acting in the world.

Transcending religions are religions of faith, not of dogmas and beliefs. That doesn't mean they don't have doctrines and beliefs.  They do; but they are not stuck in them. That is why transcending religions condemn idolatry--no word, no symbol, no teaching, no proposition, no book, no rite, no behavior, no person is absolute. Faith beyond belief.

In the 1950s Will Herberg opined that there were three ways you could be American--as Catholic, Protestant, and Jew because these cultural traditions all adopted the American political principles of the founding documents. This was an acceptance of Jefferson's notion of a civil religion (devoid of superstition, supernature, and sacrament) by which private, even bizarre, factions (Hamilton's term) could exist and cooperate for the public good. Sociologist Robert Bellah studied America's civil religion and demonstrated that it consisted not merely in those principles but in how they were being interpreted in the present context.

The civil religion in America is a journey towards the achievement of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" or "freedom and justice for all" on this earth through political engagement or action together for the common good. It is more of a faith than a set of hard beliefs. It has beliefs and behaviors but they too must be understood in terms of American political principles.  It is that faith that unites, not the beliefs. Culture and economy in the private sector divides, republican politics unites--e pluribus unum.

Would Herberg include Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Indigenous religions in his ways of being American today. Yes, I believe he would argue, but only to the extent that they are transcending religions that share the same faith in the human pursuit of life, happiness, freedom, and justice for all.

Next: Interpreting the American civil religion.



Tuesday, July 25, 2017

E pluribus

The writing on our coins: e pluribus unum originally meant "from many states, one nation." It was an affirmation of the Constitution of the United States.  From the resistance of tyranny by many states to the foundation of a new united nation.

That unity has been seriously challenged throughout the history of the nation. It is challenged today. How we perceive the foundation of unity makes all the difference in how we understand the strains and polarizations that threaten the nation today.

Carlos Lozada wrote an excellent piece on Samuel Huntington, the great political thinker, and his connection to the Age of Trump. I began reading Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations about ten year ago. But I could not finish because I so vehemently disagreed with his analysis.

Description and prescription interact. How you diagnose a problem shapes your solution. The solution you prescribe shapes your analysis of the problem.  And both problem and solution, I learned in Divinity School under Al Pritchard, are shaped by vision and values--what we want.

Huntington in The Clash was analyzing the American situation and proposing a course of action that I refuse to accept for myself, my community, and my species. It is the very solution that Trump, influenced by Steve Bannon, is selling to hurting people who see themselves as victims. It is the view of Victor Hanson, the Stanford classicist become political pundit, who blames the decline of America on Mexicans (Mexifornia), identity politics, multiculturalism in schools and in culture. Build the wall!

According to this description and prescription, the True America and its foundation is in its Anglo-Saxon heritage, its calvinist roots in support capitalism, the frontier spirit of taking land and taming the wild through hard toil, its English language, and a set of propositions that comes out of English common law and philosophy but was refined and clarified by the founders. If strangers come, they must assimilate, become, act, and believe like true patriots.

But Lozada pointed out that there is another Huntington, the one before he lost hope and became cynical. In American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony, Huntington presented another foundation for unity. Lozada indicates it is a credal unity, a belief in what America stands for. "What holds America together is not about ethnic identity or religious faith (note: I prefer to say religious 'beliefs' for reasons I will explain), but about political belief (and here I prefer to say 'faith')." We hold these truths, Huntington says. Who holds these truths? Americans do. Americans are defined by their political faith or what many of us have called our civil religion.

In this view, America is held together by a dream, not the economic one of wealth and domination, not the cultural one of same religion, but the political one of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" or "freedom and justice for all." All who have this dream, whoever they are, wherever they come from, whatever they believe, however they live their lives, whomever they love, and however they express this dream, they, i.e. we, are Americans. Indeed, diversity and disharmony in culture and economy provide the occasion and opportunity for unity.

These are such radically different analyses and prescriptions, based on such different visions and values of humanity and of American politics. They indicate the crisis we face today, along with our feelings of unsettlement, hurt, fear, and anger. America is in crisis, at a point of decision once again.


Next: American Faith and American Belief.

And next: Interpreting the American Religion.

And then: In defense of identity politics and political correctness.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Immortal Soul

Does the soul expand beyond and outlast the body?

I recall the great souled ones I have encountered through stories, many of whom have been preserved in the writings of their acolytes and scholars: Buddha, Jesus, Lao Tzu, Sappho, Socrates, Francis, Lincoln, for example. Some of whom I have heard in my own lifetime: Gandhi, de Beauvoir, Havel, Tubman, Mandela, Einstein, King. And there are my great souled personal heroes—friends, relations, teachers, pastors--who, without celebrity, mentored me in my own journey.  I name them all in my own soul as long as my mind will function.

And beyond.  They have entered into my character to shape who I am and who I want to be. They have helped me unite with them, you, and others to create a world and give it hope by celebrating life and confronting injustice. They bring light to our minds and lead us little ones to big purpose. The great souled ones have generated an atmosphere of enlightened, loving consciousness incasing the world to heal the poisoned atmosphere of fear and hate of small minded, no souled ones: they who for mere short-term profit pollute our atmosphere and ravage the earth which is the condition of our life and soul growing.

I join my soul with these great souled ones by seeking to critically know and to generously love in the face of the ignorance and hate of others. Other truths, other perspectives, other ways of being human. I join them by listening deeply, by putting on their habits, by taking on their project, by entering their adventure, and by pursuing their transcendent purpose. This union of souls unites past to future, spirit in matter, and individuality within community. I hope that union will persist eternally forever. And this hope which I freely choose drives me to live as fully as I can now and for the future.

This here-and-now hope founds the great images, myths, and allegories of an afterlife, a heaven or paradise to come, a time of enjoyment with the gods, the veneration of ancestors and saints, a return of my personal fire to the great conflagration, resurrection and eternity even in the certainty of mortality. I accept that hope is fragile. I accept that there is as much evidence for failure for the human prospect as there is for success. I accept that the knowledge I now have will change. I accept that I and all the people I know and love shall die. It is only our faith that provides the evidence of a future.

As I ease into and accept aging and death, the lifelong project that began the moment of my birth, I realize that my body will dissolve into the elements of the universe from which it arose; but my soul, if grown large enough, will endure in the transcending consciousness of the universe with which I connect and to which I contribute. Using the language of information theory, I have added my bits.

I am matter that the earth generated within a universe which, organizing itself over billions of years, produced life and spirit. In me, in concert with you and our world, spirit is emerging from the potentiality for consciousness of every atom and bit of matter. These atoms and bits are being joined to produce new forms and organizations of matter into life and thought and love. I need not be conscious as a particular ego or a named self to join my soul with the soul of loved and loving ones, with the soul of the earth and the universe. In choosing faith, hope, and love, I choose eternity and infinity. I choose transcending consciousness or emerging spirit and growing soul—which in different times and language has been understood as the essence of God.
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In reflecting on the birth, growth, and future of soul, I also reflect on my theology in transmodern times. The theology I advocate is consistent with contemporary science and its method. It rejects supernatural explanations by embracing nature as discovered through observation and verified by experiment. It surpasses conventional wisdom by engaging in critical thinking. It finds in the uncertainty of empirical knowledge the way to truth. New theology is search, adventure, and process. It discards dogmatism, the irrevocability and permanence of beliefs, in favor of faith, the continuing, never-ending desire and drive for truth.

What makes this search theology over and beyond empirical science is that it appeals to subjective as well as objective data, that is, to the dynamic drive of transcending consciousness as experienced in the very act of sensing, imagining, and understanding the world in which we find ourselves inventing. It perpetually begins and ends in the wonder of faith, the anticipation of hope, and the realization of love. Amazement, expectation, and communion. Theology is the grasp of incorporated soulfulness, relational uniqueness, intersubjective individuality, spirit in matter.

As I inquire into and try to describe the soul and its development, I make up and tell a story that has value insofar as 1) it is interesting and engaging, 2) it fits the emerging scientific story of the universe, 3) it is inclusive, not divisive, offering a way to understand other stories from other perspectives and cultures, 4) it provides the rationale to keep alive and learning, 5) it communicates the transcendent aim and purpose for existence personally and collectively, 6) it impels me here and now to pass beyond our present by engaging our past to risk our future. This unfolding narrative is my theology--the context of my communication, the basis of my belief, the story of my soul.

Important is not the account in words or depiction in pictures, but the story as lived with others: the activities of falling in love, raising children, discussing the world’s problems with friends, saying hello to the stranger on the street, acting for peace by protesting injustice in the public forum. A person with soul tells her stories by living them with others. These stories as lived contribute to the culture and nudge our transcending consciousness forward towards the meaning of ourselves and our universe. This is not the immortality of the living dead, of spooky souls extricated from bodies, of a fixed and unchanging egos, or of the extension of lives being attempted through the technological singularity. Nevertheless, even in aging and death, spirit soars and soul persists.

As the great souled Paul said, vain is our faith without hope in resurrection.