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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.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Whence the Principle

In a preceding article, I stated that the principle of the democratic Republic arises from our human nature and being. In other words, it is ordained by natural and existential law[1]

A democratic Republic is not a hierarchy ruled by God and divine intermediaries. Even if you believe that human nature and existence comes from a divine force, the criterion for citizenship is accessible through our expanding knowledge of nature and existence. We exercise our ability to know human nature and existence primarily through philosophy and science or, better, through thoughtful philosophy informed by science. Not by religion or theology.

It is true that many of the founders of great religions expressed deep insight into the human condition, nature, and being. Many religious teachings are in conformity to natural law and human existence. But still the principle is us as a human community. It is in our understanding of ourselves as human beings—our continuity with and our distinctiveness in nature, our essence as defined by science and our existence as lived, our actuality as developed to the present and our potential for the future in that actuality--our individuality and our relatedness to the universe.

The study of culture through anthropology, the study of development through history, the study of the body through biology, the study of mind through evolutionary psychology and neuroscience—indeed all the sciences give us data for understanding human nature and so natural law. Good philosophy gathers these findings and, more, reflects on the nonobjective or lived experiences of existence in consciousness to offer an understanding of who we are and of the alternatives for who we want to be personally and collectively.

However, it is in the public realm or politics that we consider our alternatives and choose.  Politics is founded on our evolved (or God-given, if you wish) ability to fashion images (imagination) or symbols (language, art, science) to communicate and so collaborate with one another. The ability to act in concert is the definition of power. Politics is both the expression, exercise, and extension of power. Therefore, another name for the principle of a democratic Republic is “power.”

This principle can be discovered in actual occurrences of history in which people discarded oppression and seized power.  The stories of rebellions and revolutions bring that principle of human nature and existence to light.

The history of slavery in America is filled with rebellions and flights to freedom. The stories of Soujourner Truth, Paul Robeson, Jane Addams, Walter Reuther, Martin Luther King, Toussant Louverture, Ghandi, Mandela in our time and all the rebels to oppression by Church, State, Culture, Corporation, and Convention in the past are instances not only of personal liberation, but of communal freedom. i.e. assemblies of persons constituting free associations or publics. It is in these stories that the principle of power, liberty, and citizenship emerges and is renewed.

Unfortunately, these stories also illustrate how the principle of democratic republics is often suppressed. For example, the French Revolution was supplanted by the Terror. The power of the soviets in Russia was usurped by the hierarchical force of the Communist Party. The Athenian Polis and the Roman Republic were consumed by the Empire. Populism in many countries is superseded by dictators. And today in America, the principle is once more in jeopardy. Fear of loss, hate of others, and desire for wealth revive tribal instincts, economic nationalism, cultural absolutism.
The principle of democratic republicanism, which is the principle of citizenship, power, and multiculturalism, is found less in broad movements and big organizations than in ordinary people assuming power in their neighborhoods, their housing complexes, their work sites, and their villages and cities. I have personally experienced the spark of rebellion often, not just in marches, demonstrations, and campaign rallies but in local communities organizing themselves to feed, house, school, and provide living wages to themselves and their neighbors.

Again, the principle of the democratic public or the Republic is aspirational and intentional, belonging more to what we call the spirit rather than the matter or body of the organizing people. It may be expressed through a constitution of an organization or in a set of formulated principles. But mostly it is expressed in action and in the narrative that describes the action.

And because, once expressed, it becomes part of the culture and, if successful, part of the status quo, it must be renewed continually. Especially when the expression becomes exclusive, absolute, dogmatic, reactionary, resigned, negative, and lethargic. For when this happens, the people, their organization, their community, and their nation have lost their soul. This is the present condition of America where people have elected a leader without character, without empathy, without a soul.

Now is when citizen leaders must agitate, encourage, challenge, and demonstrate so that people rediscover their soul. It starts with resistance; it moves to rebellion, action, and reorganization. And then renewal is never far behind. All politics is local. It starts here and now.

[1] Natural law is distinguished from positive law which is the law that is promulgated by the state which may or may not be consistent with natural law or the way reality is. Existence is distinguished from essence. Essence is being in nature as defined by objective science. Existence is the human act, including cognition, of being human as subjectively perceived.