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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Trump is NOT a citizen!

The upside of Trumpism is that it pushes us who are concerned with the directions of our nation and world to achieve greater clarity on our values and principles. More than ever.

In my last blog, I argued that the foundational principle of a democratic republic is in politics over culture. We have various expressions of that foundational principle: “We the People,” “liberty and justice for all,” “all men are created equal,” human rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Note that the expressions are in culture, the principle itself in politics.

I contrasted this political principle with the principle of cultural assimilation, including language, religion, custom, life-style. The union of a democratic republic is in the public space created by the willing participation of all as equals. The governance of a democratic republic is not by hierarchy with some divine ruler at the pinnacle of power setting the standards of human life and action.

The foundational principle of public space organized by willing people without exclusion is also expressed in the First Amendment to the US Constitution.  That amendment affirms freedom of assembly, of speech, and of religion as the essential tools and rights to build and shape the public space, its contours, rules, and governance.  Public space is not to be confused with government run or owned although government guarantees and protects that space. There are places and organizations that are government run and owned: schools, museums, libraries, enterprises, non-profits, research institutes, theaters, and parks. But government is of, for, and by citizens assembled without discrimination in the public space.

And who is a citizen? Primarily a citizen is any person from any persuasion, origin, culture, and religion who accepts and lives by the foundational principle of the democratic Republic. This principle arises from our human nature and being. In other words, it is ordained by natural and existential (as opposed to positive or essential) law.

Those who believe in a divine Maker affirm that human nature and existence is not (just) the product of evolution but created by Elohim or Yahweh if Jewish, or by Allah if following the teaching of the Prophet, or by Christ, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, or by Krishna, avatar of Vishnu, or by Crow or Coyote in indigenous mythology. The Mosaic, Papal, Sharia, and Vedic codes of laws, holy books, and personal moralities are espoused by individuals and groups who enter the public realm. But the source, foundation, premise, and rationale for the Republic is human nature and being as understood by reason and decided by the will of citizens.

Traditional beliefs, holy books, and behaviors can be cited in public libraries, government funded schools, civic parks and museums as long as none receive particular preference. There is freedom for religions and their codes of behavior in the private and cultural sphere. There is freedom from religion in the public sphere where the understanding of the common good and the rules for governance are negotiated.

The Constitution of a democratic republic is an imperfect human expression that attempts to articulate the foundational principle and set rules and guidelines for its implementation. To say it is divinely inspired, as did Mitt Romney, or to treat it that way, as do fundamentalist jurors, is contrary to the very principle of a democratic republic. If you know the history of the debates and compromises by which the Constitution was written, you know that the principle which it embodied was more aspirational than achieved. It permitted slavery, excluded women and the non-propertied from voting, allowed votes of some to count more than others. But it did not overtly promote these inequities, sinning more by omission than commission.  

And it allowed for interpretation and amendments that did in fact over time reduce these inequities and exclusions. It is still today an imperfect document allowing for gerrymandering by parties, plutocracy through the influence of money in elections, an aristocracy through the electoral college, and populist corruption through bribes and lies. But the promise remains.

Many occasions pushed the nation towards greater implementation of its aspirational democratic principle. The Civil War defeated a Confederacy bent on maintaining slavery and therefore retiring the democratic republican principle. Industrial corporate suppression of workers led to the labor movement. Jim Crow practice furthered the civil rights movement. Discrimination against women advanced the women’s movement first for political and then social and economic equality. Wars have been countered by peace movements. The Trumpian interval is a setback for progress, but it is also an occasion for renewal of commitment to the democratic republican ideal.

In the Trumpian age, a reactionary party and movement, recoiling from the election of the first black president and an African American family in the White House built by African slaves, is negating the democratic republican principle. This party and movement would set a cultural standard for belonging—straight, manly, Euro/Anglo, monied, churched—by enabling white supremacy and immigrant hate groups. Trumpians want to build walls, keep out immigrants, reward the wealthy, punish the unconventional, put religious belief over critical thinking. The Trumpians use tribal fear to blame others for their shortcomings. They want to reduce health care, make poorer people poorer, keep out immigrants, pit race against race, debase the free press, undermine the organization of workers and consumers, put profit for some over safety and health for all, and substitute force for power, punishment for justice. They treat and so make government not of, for, and by the people, but against the people.

A citizen is a person who accepts and lives the foundational principle of a democratic republic. That principle is a safe open space for all without exclusion to live, worship, love, work, worship, and play as they want in private and to speak, decide, and act together as a public. A public--whether a neighborhood, a nation, a region, a world--is the inclusive space where all have the ability, including the resources, to have life, meaning and respect. Therefore, persons intending civil, worker, racial, LGBT, immigrant, income rights and power are citizens whether or not they have legal status. Trumpians, their leader and their enablers, are not.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Unifying America

E pluribus unum. One from many.

Two principles vie to make the one-from-many.  One of those principles ironically breaks America--and all Republics in the world. And that principle is now being preached from many pulpits, including the highest--inviting a new civil war or perhaps rekindling the old one.

This is more than a war of ideas. It consists of physical assault and murder in the name of defense. It determines who is a criminal, who is punished and who is pardoned. But it is also a war of ideas and needs to be understood at that level. It can only be fully resolved through thinking, critical and sustained thinking that reforms behavior.

One principle of unity is cultural.  The other is political. They are in mortal combat for supremacy. And they determine whether our nation and perhaps our species will survive.

The divisive principle would have us suppress our differences by assimilating or melting them into a common belief system by which we adopt similar customs, styles, language, religious tradition, ethnicity, conventional values, and identity. This principle would have a single cultural standard that defines the true and successful citizen in America: adult, white, male, Judeo-Christian, straight, and propertied. This cultural standard is what turned the Irish, once considered black servants, to dominant white citizens.  This cultural standard would have women act more like men, require homosexuals to become straight, expect Muslims to convert to a Judeo-Christian style of life, and of course seek African Americans to be like Euro-Americans and Latinos like Anglos.

The second principle would have us expose our differences by joining them in the public space where each and every individual, tribe, culture, sex, age, will speak out and act to achieve a unity in intention, in hope, in values not as conventionally expressed, but as lived in common celebration of our differences. This principle rejects "melting pot" assimilationism for "stone soup" pluralism. It is a union in intentionality, not expression, in faith and hope, not beliefs, in aspiration, not achievement. Our unity is in our natural desire for a productive life, for meaning of ourselves and of our universe, and for recognition and respect as equals. No matter how we might express or explain the origin and fulfillment of these drives of our being.

The conflict in these two principles explains the tensions between church and state, religion and politics, faith and science, race relations, marriage equality, transgendered Americans serving in the military, nationalism and globalism, and even genocide.  It explains why traditional Catholics, Jewish Zionists, evangelical Protestant fundamentalists, Islamic extremists, Myanmar Buddhists, Hindu fundamentalists are in conflict with each other and with others who are not in their or any religious tradition including secular humanists and skeptics of religious belief, ethnic identity, and national character.

It also explains the irony of the charges of "political correctness" and "identity politics" on progressives who would strive for inclusive language and advocate the participation of those who have been kept out of the fullness of political, economic, and social life and action because their identity does not meet some fixed cultural standard. It is the divisive assimilation principle that most focuses on conventional correctness and identity drawn from some idealized past.

If you haven't guessed it by now, I am clearly advocating the pluralistic principle over the assimilationist one. I believe that the continuation of the democratic American Republic and all democratic republics requires it. Nevertheless, I do see the worth of sharing cultures, learning from other customs and life styles, understanding others' religious beliefs, and building a common history out of the diverse stories of neighbors. It is just that I also believe that our common story occurs not in the private sphere of tribe, clan, and church, but in the public sphere of speech and action to build and sustain the Republic. I subordinate culture to politics, religious beliefs to faith in human process.

In the beginning, i.e. the hunting and gathering period of tribe and clan, the first principle dominated. Those of other cultural differences were feared and despised. When, in the age of agriculture, tribes and clans joined their stories and behaviors to collaborate in civilizations, a separation arose between the household gods of private life and the official gods of the civil society. Even in the most tolerant of civilizations, e.g. the Babylonian, Roman, and Islamic civilizations, although tribes could keep their private beliefs and rituals, the public life was governed by the gods, rites, practices, and laws in a  hierarchy of the rulers.

The Enlightenment, a turning to reason over superstition, to science, and especially the organization of republics, led to the rediscovery of the second principle, always inchoative in human existence. The American Revolution and the foundation of the American Republic lifted this principle to the forefront in the name of free speech and assembly and religious liberty.

Thomas Jefferson declared the separation of church and state, making religious belief a matter of the private realm, excising it from the public realm of the nation. He recognized that these were private citizens who came together to create public space; and though they had personal persuasions and diverse cultures which influenced their thinking and behavior, they must appeal to a higher principle of the body politic to unify them. Jefferson, though an admirer of Jesus and a student of the gospels and of Islam, was not a Christian or Muslim and would not have any religion, including Judeo-Christianity, as the foundation of the Republic.

The principle that would promote unity through an assimilated culture, including religion, language, and beliefs, is now advocated by white supremacists, homophobic anti-feminists, immigrant bashers, economic nationalists and wall builders. This assimilation principle is in fact destroying America even though its proponents say they want to make it great by restoring it to a more nostalgic, idealized time when men were men and women were women and inferiors knew their place. This is a principle that has been rejected in a democratic Republic.

If America desires to stand and keep its soul as a democratic Republic, we must reject the principle of assimilation and hold with all our hearts and might the enlightenment principle of pluralism that lifts the public good to a power higher than our private, individual interests. Some call it our civil religion. I believe that this expression of transcendence beyond our selfish tribalism and nationalism through the creation of safe places for speech and action for all without exception, i.e. publics, is the most exceptional of values.  It is an instance of humanity's higher power.

Next: How can both these principles coexist in human nature?

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.