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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pope Francis and the Kochs.

To put Pope Francis along side the Koch Brothers, extolling them all in the same breath, is in my mind obscene. But that's what John and Carol Saeman, seemingly good Mass-going Catholics, did in the Washington Post Article (11/30/2014) "Following the Pope and the Kochs." My biggest complaint is that they misunderstand both the Koch Brothers and Catholic Social Teaching to do so.

When they see the Kochs opposing cronyism, corporate welfarism (e.g. tax subsidies to oil and big agriculture), corrupt capitalism (e.g. the richest opposing higher taxes on themselves), and excessive lobbying ($86 million to oppose ACA and climate change legislation), I know they are not seeing the same people I am. But then I know that values shape how we look at "facts."

The values cited are Catholic Social Teaching which the Saemans rightly say are focused on three principles, dignity of all humans, solidarity, and subsidiarity--principles I find they distort. They are right not to identify government with the public or with the common good. But they are wrong in not seeing the government as an instrument of the public for the common good. I suggest that they read the American Bishops letter on "Economic Justice for All" as the best explication of Catholic Social Teaching for the US.

They refuse to see Pope Francis's attack on the libertarian economy, a Kochian dogma, which sanctifies the "free market," which of course is much freer for some than others. I too attack over-centralization in Washington or in State Government when there are not active labor unions and local communities, especially those of the working poor, holding accountable those governments because they are basically bought through election campaigns by the Kochs and their like.

And most of all they extort charity over justice. In a just world, people have a right to work, to survive with housing and health care, to have education, and to have enough income to innovate without being dependent on charity and the disposable income of the rich. Yes, as Director of Catholic Charities in Two States, I was grateful to people like the Saemans for our food, immigration, and housing programs. But I preferred to see donations to help people organize themselves in solidarity to get their government on their side and to provide the assurances that all people had the necessities of life so that they could make the contributions to society that they all wanted to make.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Mike Montague taught us "Philosophy of Man." (By "man" of course he meant humanity, i.e. women too.)

Once he had us shout out together: "I am my body!" He wanted us to recognize that the body isn't some appendage to the real self. He was urging us to reject the Cartesian dualism that is wrecking havoc on so much of our psychology, religion, and politics. He did not take any stand on the eternity of the soul or life after death. But the implications were ominous for true believing Christians--or, for that matter, many other religionists.

"I am my body" helped us to appreciate both the magnificence of the human body as well as its defects, transience, and limitations. And it helped us to value matter and understand its convertibility into energy, not just physically but also spiritually.

And what about spirit or mind? Am I my mind? Neuroscience demonstrates that the mind is the body with reflective consciousness thanks to its neural system centered in the brain.  But we know that the mind is also the unconscious or preconsciousness of the brain. No body? Then no self consciousness with its unconscious foundation and its preconscious background. So if I am my body, I am also my mind. There is no more a duality of body and spirit. No more than there is for matter and energy or space and time.

But isn't the mind more than the body at least at any given time or place because we are influenced by memory and anticipation all born of imagination. Yes. The spirit is the body in connection with other body/minds throughout space and time.

Now humanity is in the process of creating an artificial intelligence (AI) that is greater than any one person's intelligence. Perhaps even greater than the intelligence of all humanity past, present, and future. Perhaps. But knowledge is much more than intelligence. Will the post-human be human? Will AI have a mind capable of spirituality, that is, of transcendence, constantly aware consciously or not, of being in transition towards eternity, infinity, and universality? Without a flesh and blood body with a neuronic brain evolved to extend and use one's body to create images (gestures, symbols, formulas) that communicate with other bodies? And without a body that is nourished to nourish and born to die?

Will AI have the knowledge of good and evil sprung from its sexuality, its intercourse with others, its interaction with the earth, its pursuit of the gods, and its sense of transience (as the biblical myth of The Garden so intuited)?

The joke is that when the final Master Computer was asked if there was a God, it checked all its connections and made sure that it could control them without any technical help before answering: "There is now."

But a god without a human body and its sexuality, its earthiness, its particularity because of limits, its sense of wanting more is quite a lacking god it seems to me. Lacking in the sense of flesh upon flesh, lacking in innovation and novelty, and above all lacking in the satisfaction of continually trying to push beyond its lacking. Can infinity be known without a sense of finitude?

And perhaps that is the meaning of the myth of the Incarnation and Christmas. To achieve the fullness of spirit we must be fully body. Mind becomes in matter and matter becomes mind in my body which extends itself to others through symbolic communication. AI is just another tool we use like words, formulas, models, and other symbols. Universal Spirit, the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Love, becomes in our body-minds in communication.

So God became man so man could become God. It's in the becoming that both realities exist.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Trust but Verify

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Fifth Dimension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

All Religion is Politics

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 8, 2014

All Politics is Moral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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