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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Spirituality of Universalism

Richard Dawkins, renowned evolutionary biologist and atheist preacher, urged that skeptics, agnostics, atheists, and other religious non-believers need to have a support group or congregation like churches provide religious believers. In America, it is kinda lonely being a non-believer.

It takes faith to be a scientist--or artist, teacher, student, social worker, even shop keeper for that matter. It takes faith to be inquiring, skeptical, anti-supernatural, and pro-science-over-superstition people.  Faith in the future, in the human prospect, in open society politics, in liberal education and critical thinking, in democratic republican values, in the possibility of progress, truth through reason and collaboration.  Faith in others. It is not belief in any particular expression, doctrine, or institution. It is faith in the ongoing process of expressing, teaching, and building institutions that make a world and society free and open to keep inquiring, keep challenging, and keep renewing expressions, teachings, and institutions.

It is faith because we can find as much evidence to be cynical and credulous as we can find evidence to be inquiring and critical. I submit that faith is transcendence, the choice to transcend, to go beyond our beliefs. We have a fundamental option here. And as we choose and live out our choice of faith, it helps to be traveling the road to the future together.

It sure helps to have a soul-mate, a life partner to reinforce that need. Bernie and I, born and educated in Roman Catholicism, value our tradition of globalism, of Christian fellowship, of social justice, and of sacramentality. But we confront a great contradiction in the Roman Catholic institution that has fixed dogmas which exclude women from leadership and choice, deny use of technology for family planning, prohibit sexual orientation, govern by hierarchy, resist science when it contradicts orthodoxy, claim to be the only Way, and disseminate patently superstitious, even silly, beliefs. Most of all the Church enshrines a dogmatic and absolutist belief system that contradicts transcendence and faith.

Bernie and I have moved a lot. In all our new places, we searched out communities that were transcending, that were not stuck in dogma, that were willing to question all beliefs, inclusive of people of any culture, religion, life-style, sex, and orientation, and that were welcoming to all. We found such communities sometimes within a Catholic and sometimes within a Protestant or Jewish tradition and thrived in them. We didn’t find one when we moved to Fresno; and we explored the Unitarian-Universalist church. When we moved to DC, we found a UU Church that most met our desires and faith.

The UU church does not have a set doctrine or set of beliefs. UUs do share principles with strong values which are not expressed in concrete, but are rather guides to how we treat people in our local and global community.  The first being respect for the dignity of every human being. Out of this comes universal inclusion and social justice. The UU community is not Christian, Jewish, Protestant, Evangelical, Muslim, Hindu, or any religion. Though anyone can participate without rejecting their tradition. In other words, there are Catholic UUs like me, Jewish UUs, Protestant UUs, Muslim UUs, atheist UUs, and so forth.  

I usually stress the Universalist or inclusive metaphor. The Unitarian metaphor, like the One God metaphor, can be interpreted arrogantly as though there is one way to human fulfillment. But both metaphors are aspirational—stressing unity within and from diversity, e pluribus unum. This, in my parlance, is a political unity, not a cultural one. By “political” I mean, collective human choice and action based on mutual respect for the dignity of all. Solidarity, not assimilation, is our project.            

Therefore, Dr. Dawkins, there are places to which we can retreat even in private where we can discover personal support and even spirituality for those of us who have and celebrate diverse languages, cultures, and belief systems—even for those of us committed to faith and transcendence without gods, without supernatural beings, events, and places. Agnostics, atheists, nontheists, skeptics, and heretics. What motivates and unites us is not our certainty, but our willingness to doubt and seek for the good of each other in the public sphere. Beliefs diversify us; and that is good. But faith brings us together in solidarity beyond the diversity.  And that's even better.                                                                                     

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Trump's Rule

Trump's rule on contraception, no matter how the Tory-picked Supreme Court rule on it, demonstrates his ignorance of the constitution of a democratic Republic--which the USA is in aspiration if not in fact.

To allow a publicly chartered business that serves the public and provides health coverage to its employees to abandon a health procedure on religious grounds denies religious liberty. A public business may not discriminate in hiring or serving customers on a cultural (e.g. religious, ethnic) basis as long as employees and customers follow the contracts by which they were hired or served. A public business should not prevent an employee the freedom to choose contraception because its owners find it against their religion.

Religious liberty, as Thomas Jefferson taught, is not only the right to practice religion in private, it is also freedom from religion in public. No one should be forced to use contraception or have an abortion if they have conscientious objections. But that should not exclude persons because of their gender or their morality from receiving full health benefits that are legal. And no law should be made to restrict a practice publicly on religious grounds.

Here again is the confusion of politics with culture (including religion). The public realm, is founded on the principle of the dignity of all persons and mutual respect for all cultures, moralities, lifestyles, sexes, orientations, ethnicities, backgrounds. Individual, associations, or corporations that promote or follow the Trump rule should not be considered citizens of a democratic Republic whether they have legal standing or not.

Inclusionary identity politics is that of a democratic Republic. Exclusionary identity politics is not.


Friday, October 6, 2017

The Color of Soul

"You light up when you see black people," Bernie told me. I didn't realize that. But I did live in a black neighborhood in Chicago, marched in civil rights demonstrations, and loved reading black authors.  I love soul food, souls brothers and sisters, and soul music, spirituals, blues, and jazz. In Hawaii, I gravitated to locals, native Hawaiians and hapa haoles. In Fresno, my friends were often brown, Mexican Americans and indigenous people. In Haiti I was encouraged by the continuing struggle for liberation by the descendants of former black slaves.

Solidarity is shared suffering, passion, and action. It goes beyond, but is also a prelude to, personal friendship. It is in solidarity with those who are suffering, but turning their passion into action in concert--power--that I discover my soul.

Soul is the color of all people who have been put down, left out, treated as commodities, used up for someone's advantage. Soul appears when they organize and mobilize to assert their dignity and demand respect. But those like me who have enjoyed the fruits of oppression, e.g. my status in America as white, male, educated, and relatively wealthy, can achieve soul through solidarity.

Soul growing through solidarity is more than "feeling their pain" or empathy. It is identifying with it. It is acting together with people in pain to analyze the root causes of unnecessary pain especially in the structures or habits of society. Solidarity is with all souls--black white, brown, red--who recognize  that the powerless of any is the powerlessness of all. Solidarity is for all souls, without exclusion, who want to build a democratic Republic. Solidarity is by souls of all colors sharing consciousness in a free, open, and just social order.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Mark of the Citizen.

The three-star general, head of the US Airforce Academy, was clear. "This is our institution. We have certain principles and values. If you do not treat everyone with dignity and respect, get out!"

General Jay B Silvera had gathered the whole leadership, the whole faculty, the whole staff, and the whole student body, 5000 people, as soon as it happened. The "it" was that someone had written racial slurs on the bulletin board of the airfare academy prep school. He acted immediately. He wanted everyone to know about it. And he used it as an occasion to teach his people and the whole nation: the meaning of citizenship and the character of the patriot.

Dignity and respect for every person of what ever background, of what ever ethnicity, gender, lifestyle, orientation, religion, and culture. The general referred to the current atmosphere in the country where bigotry is tolerated, white supremacy is touted, and foreigners disparaged--including the march of the KKK and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and its aftermath.

But not in our institution he said.

I remember Martin Luther King Jr, in the height of his action for civil rights, refusing to accept hate and violence in his movement. If you were part of his institution, e.g. SCLC, SNCC, if you could not treat everyone with dignity and respect, you were not invited to the movement. I know a lead minister of a church, a principal of a school, and executive of a business who were clear that their institutions were not only free and open to all, but required dignity and respect for all.

In private, in your family or tribe or religion, you can be exclusive. The Mormons just rejected same- sex marriage as do Catholics and many Protestant churches which generally see homosexual and transgendered people as evil-doers. Catholics reject women as priests, bishops, and popes. And no one can be made to like certain customs, foods, beliefs, and rituals from different traditions. That's their privilege in a Republic whose unity is not founded on language, culture, or belief, but on the dignity and respect for all.

In the public realm, in the city, on the streets, in civic spaces, and in all public institutions including businesses that are publicly chartered and serve the general public, if you cannot treat everyone with dignity and respect even those with whom you disagree, you should pack up and get out. The democratic Republic for which we stand or kneel is the public institution, our institution as citizens.

Citizenship doesn't mean we have to like everyone or have them in our circle of personal friends. But it does mean that we must treat every one with dignity and respect. If we do not or cannot, we are not citizens. If a public leader does not, he is no citizen and no patriot and should get out.



Friday, September 29, 2017

Solidarity as a Spiritual Exercise


Rev Rob Hardies gave a sermon last Sunday entitled “Who are my People?” Our church has joined with other churches to declare sanctuary for embattled immigrants and refugees, and especially the Dreamers who have been told by the President that the program that allows them to stay in the USA, brought here as children and grown up to adulthood, is ending. They are no longer welcome by Trumpians, but they are welcomed by those who have faith in the dignity of all persons.

He told the story of the Black Baptist Minister who delivered a eulogy at a meeting of gay and lesbian advocates and their friends celebrating their victory in the passage of marriage equality act in the District of Columbia. For a theologically conservative minister, taught that homosexuality was a sin and transgender a disease, how did it feel to be addressing these folks? He said that when he looked out at all those persons listening, he was moved. He thought of the passage of Leviticus I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.” He realized that in this event he had extended vastly his circle of ultimate concern. And he was changed in the process.

Hardies’ point is that we grow when our circle grows. He referred to the time when Jesus was in working with his disciples and someone came in to tell him: your mother and brothers are outside. Jesus turned to his disciples and said: here are my mother and brothers. He wasn’t excluding his family. He was including to his family. Hardies was asking us to consider: Who are our people? Who is our family? Who is our neighbor? He indicated that we must expand our circle to include all men and women—though he went on to say that that may be an impossibility, just one of those ideals or aspirations towards which we are working.

But here I want to add a clarification. There is no way I can like all people. No way can all persons be in my circle of personal friends. 

I read for entertainment Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard, and Walter Mosley who present the most unsavory characters you can meet. And yet there is always one who is admirable and even the most unsavory have some saving characteristic. Yes, they are bums, a—holes, and jerks. Yet at the same time, there is something there to recognize. Even the man without a soul I described in an earlier meditation was better described by a journalist as a man with a pebble for a soul or as spiritual writer James Hillman might write “an acorn,” just one that hasn’t yet been planted and nourished. Even with him, there is something to recognize as humane.

But I do not need to like him—his personality, his character, his lack of empathy, his narcissism.  I do not have the capacity to include him or people like him in my personal circle. He is not family. He is not a personal friend. And here is the distinction I want to make to clarify “who are my people?”

My personal friends I like and share with intimately. My public friends, those with whom I enjoy working and those especially whom I find important to my own mission, I respect and share speech and action in concert. It’s wonderful when the personal like and the public respect come together. But that cannot be expected. An office is not a family. A family is not a public.

But a public is a widening circle of friends--public and personal.

The ideal to which we aspire, universal friendship, peaceful community, and social justice, which we call the democratic Republic, can only be achieved through politics. It is politics that ensures the possibility of diversity in culture and equal opportunity in economy. When politics is reduced to economy or subservient to culture, then diversity, equal opportunity, and solidarity are all lost. And I submit so is humanity. I may not like your style of speech, art, life, or belief, but in solidarity I respect you. You are my neighbor. You are a fellow citizen of my world. You are my people.

Solidarity is a political virtue that must be learned and practiced. Solidarity exceeds personal friendship and cultural similarity. Solidarity is a unity beyond style, beyond religion, beyond ethnicity. Solidarity transcends family, tribe, nation, and civilization. Solidarity is the highest of virtues because it makes all the others possible. Solidarity is achieved by showing up both in the moment and the movement both to resist threats to, and restore the actuality of, the democratic Republic. Solidarity is shared suffering, shared anger, shared passion in shared hope for us all.


Solidarity is a spiritual discipline, a means of growing our souls.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

For God's Sake! Get Abortion Out of Politics.

I just read that Democrats are making abortion a litmus test. And we know that Republicans already do. My appeal: get abortion out of the political conversation! Now!

If persons of whatever party or persuasion want to declare their opposition or support of abortion for moral or religious reasons, okay, that's their business. But don't let it make a difference to your politics or theirs. Please!

America is a democratic Republic governed by laws that were adopted through the political process under the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court for our time and place. Our constitution protects freedom for and from religion. Religion in America is a private right guaranteed by the Constitution. Private individuals, when they enter the political arena, are public citizens. Through private individuals religion can influence, but not substitute for the body politic which rests on the consent of the governed, not on any religious doctrine, book, or law.

Abortion, like surgery or any physical intervention, is an act of violence. Violence should be prevented in a just moral and political order. We have laws against violence, i.e. against kidnapping, slavery, and murder, the killing of human persons. However, violence, while not justafiable, may sometimes be necessary. And so, we have exceptions to the laws against violence: self-defense, defense against violence against others, defense of the Republic from enemies, and the defense of all human life and, in some societies, of all life when unnecessary.

The moral principle is that violence can be exerted only when necessary. Who decides when it is necessary in surgery, the patient (hopefully in consultation with loved ones and medical experts). In self defense or defense of others, the person or persons threatened. Abortion is a violation. It should not be done except when necessary. Who decides? The pregnant woman, of course.

But you say: the pregnant woman cannot abort a fetus because it is a human life. Who says so? Not the law, not many citizens, not science, not even many religions. But your religion says that the fetus is a human life because God has infused a soul at the moment of conception. Or because it on its way to become a human being. Okay, you can believe that and the law will protect you in your belief. You do not have to have an abortion even if bearing the child will kill you. You have the right to give or not to give birth for whatever reason. And if you decide to have or not have an abortion, the law will protect you in your belief. But you do not have the right to force that belief on others.

Only after the child is born, when the organism is no longer a dependent fetus, but an infant in interaction with others in the world, does the law recognize the infant as a human being under full protection of the law.

Therefore, traditional Catholics, Bishops and preachers, Bible thumpers, preach in your churches and mosques against having abortion. But take abortion out of the political realm. Keep it out of political platforms, campaign speeches, civil law. It is a private, personal, moral decision by the pregnant person. And never, never vote or promote a vote for or against a candidate because of his/her religious belief--unless that candidate threatens the political right of a pregnant woman to make a personal, religious, or moral choice.



This is not to say that I personally support abortion. I do not. I generally reject violence. But I believe that violence can be mitigated most by taking away all the conditions that necessitate violence. Do you want to lessen the number of abortions? Then make sure that financial support, personal growth, education, medical care, and the ongoing care of the child are not factors in the decision-making by the woman bearing the fetus. Those definitely are political issues that will free people to make proper decisions including the decision to or not to have an abortion. Despite the bumper stickers, pro-choice is pro-life.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Hierarchy or Republic


I just read and commented on the recent Bannon interview on 60 minutes.

We have two opposing governing principles demonstrated here. One is the principle of a democratic Republic, the other that of a hierarchy (divine monarchy, plutocratic aristocracy, totalitarian authority). In a democratic Republic, neither culture, religion, life-style, tribe, nor class are relevant to the functioning of government. What is relevant are the decisions of an inclusive, engaged, critically thinking public. In a hierarchy, what is relevant is the unchallenged opinion of a faction (party, class, tribe, religion) as interpreted and coalesced by the One. Bannon and Trump do not even meet the definition of a citizen of a democratic Republic who at least aspires to a unity based not on a specific faction, but the good of the public.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Under God

Under God

I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

The principle of unity for the democratic Republic has been our topic. Unity is not religion or culture. It is politics, the willing action of a gathered people. We the People. It is the principle of pluralism. It is the principle of power. It is the power of concerted action against oppression. It is the principle of concerted action that includes all from whatever tribe, culture, origin as equals. It is the principle of human nature and existence.

In the 1950s at the height of the Cold War against "Godless Communism," the phrase was added to the pledge. Now it is often upheld by traditionalist Christians as a reaffirmation in their beliefs in the inerrancy of the Bible and the Christian foundation of the nation as a new Jerusalem or Promised Land. It is used to promote political policies: e.g. prayer in school, teaching of Creationism," condemnation of homosexuality, removal of transgendered persons from the military, party politics from the pulpit, unregulated economy, freedom of businesses to serve or not serve "immoral" persons, opposition to contraception, and the restriction of women to have an abortion.

And so, the new president promises the return to a universal wishing of "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holiday" as an expression of political correctness. It is, after all, the Judeo-Christian God that we mean to be under, not the God of some other religion. Clearly the declaration of independence meant that when it said, "endowed by their Creator" Or is it? 

Atheists, agnostics, and humanists often dispute the addition of "under God" because they believe it restricts their rights to be non-religious and to teach their children to oppose superstition. Some Jews and non-Christian God-believers object because the addition seems to promote Christianity as a standard for citizenship. The US Constitution does not even mention, much less require, belief in God; making clear that the Republic is constituted by "We the People." 

When Einstein, the scientist par excellence, was asked whether he believed in God, he expressed some agnosticism; but he then said that he could accept Spinoza's God. And I maintain he could accept the "God" of Whitehead: God as Nature or the Process or drive of the Universe. Such a God may indeed be a step above the Deists' God of Washington and Jefferson as Watchmaker or Unknowable Force that got it all started and left it unwind. "God" could be a metaphor, as Hawken’s indicated, for the end or purpose of human transcending through knowledge and action. Such a God does not necessitate, and indeed transcends, any religious tradition. 

So it is quite possible for a non-believer to proclaim the "under God" in the pledge without any dissimilation or hypocrisy as simply a way of expressing solidarity with his/her fellow citizens. Just as it would be for a Christian to proclaim the Nicene Creed, with its third century mentality and language, without at all taking literally the propositions of Jesus being a god or the second person of a Trinity, his mother as a virgin, his rising from the dead and so forth. 

Alcoholics Anonymous taught that to break the reliance of the addict on his dependent and imperfect self, he needs a "higher power" in any way he chooses to define it. In other words, the insight of the Twelve Steps is that human improvement, progress, and transcendence requires the humility of interdependence, rather than individualistic independence. Human transcending through knowledge and action requires the recognition of dependency on the higher power. 

In politics, the higher power is not some self-sufficient supernatural power, but the power of the people assembled to determine the good for all. The principle is the public space, the inclusive realm of democracy. The Republic becomes its own principle founded in the very nature of humanity as an interdependent and collaborative being in relationship with all others for the sake of the All. That is what “under God” in the pledge means in a free and open society including all regardless of race, origin, culture, or life-style.


The pledge then becomes not some anti-Communist loyalty oath through a particular cultural meme or creed. The pledge is an expression of faith in the democratic principle which is our means to, and meaning of,  a united citizenship in rich and dynamic diversity.