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Saturday, August 5, 2017

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.

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