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Monday, December 3, 2018

Soul Growing and the Public Faith

All my colleagues know too well that I have been grieving with most of them in the election of Donald Trump as an instance of a worldwide turn to the populist autocratic right. I needed to grapple with what I considered a setback for the human advance beyond tribalism, an exaltation of wealth over commonweal, and a threat to our public faith. 

I read many books by experts analyzing the subordination of democracy to the economy and in particular the global capitalistic order. These books described how the banks and large international corporations were once tamed by social democratic policies, were gradually unchained and were able to sell a system of fast-growing inequality. They also described the transition from the industrial to the information economy and from manufacturing to a service dominated economy. “It’s the economy, stupid.” 

I listened to many persons who have given up on American political institutions because it left them poorer in income and the ability to consume, because it benefited many other people whom they do not consider true citizens because they are immigrants, are racially inferior or reject the religious and moral practices that they were taught to uphold. They saw themselves labeled losers and wanted to show the so-called winners in education, wealth, and preference that they counted. They once had religious, labor, ethnic, and veterans’ organizations through which they could achieve the power to deal with the elites who were running things. Now they felt they had nothing.

Psychologists demonstrated that when the fear, flight, and fight instincts prevail, boundaries are drawn, walls are built, and military might dominate. And people no longer savor life which recent statistics in America concerning life expectancy, drug addiction, and suicide seem to confirm. 

But I decided that though many experts hark back to the Great Recession, when banks survived but mortgages and family savings did not, this was not primarily an economic depression. And though many persons individually felt the loneliness and disrespect that undermined their purpose to live, this was not primarily a psychological depression. I decided that what we were experiencing was a political depression. 

The crisis of faith we experience may reach over to our personal, household, or private realm; but it is in the public realm we must look for a cure. 

The expressions of public faith and specifically the public faith of Americans can be found developing through the history of the United States, sometimes in its adherence and sometimes in its breach. The founding documents of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the farewell and inaugural addresses of Presidents, up through the Pledge of Allegiance, and major speeches of persons deemed to articulate that faith often etched into monuments that ring the National Mall.

The key belief of a democratic Republic is the dignity and equality of all human beings. This is the foundation of a structure of human rights that contains spaces for voluntary civic associations, all ordered through a government chosen and run by representatives elected by popular vote. The main principle of unity for a democratic Republic is not a cultural identity—not background, religion, beliefs, or ethnicity. It is choice starting with the fundamental choice to be a citizen of a Republic that recognizes that all persons, no matter how different otherwise, are equal and have rights to life, liberty, and happiness. 

The standard of religious liberty was one of Jefferson’s crowning achievements that flows from the founding principle of a democratic Republic. This is both the freedom to practice whatever religion one chooses and freedom from religion so that no person has to adhere to any established religion or any religion at all. The principle of universal human dignity and equality surpasses and indeed overcomes cultural sameness. A democratic Republic is inclusive of cultural, ethnic, sexual, religious identities. It is a unity in diversity, pluralism not assimilation—e pluribus unum.

However, there is a standard for membership in the Republic. In the Declaration, it is the belief that “all persons are created equal and endowed with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In the Pledge it is “liberty and justice for all.” 

We have a faith in our public domain that is influenced by but also transcends, all of our personal and private persuasions. That faith is based on democratic republican principles found in our very nature of human being. Its expressions and institutions change with the development of our language and our world. I know you have personal private opinions that work for you in your household and private life. I respect your religious persuasions and ask you to respect mine. I ask you to work with me to transcend, without losing, our private traditions so that we may renew our democratic republic.

I am not an “originalist.” I think originalism in respect to the Constitution or any other Sacred Scripture is based on a fallacious understanding of human thought and language. However, I am willing to discuss with you what I mean by human equality, liberty, justice and the principles of a democratic Republic and listen to what you mean. In our context, in our world, in our living together. 

In this dialogue, which joins all of our unique stories, our consensus will be achieved. In our action together to shape our community institutions we realize our public faith. Even though we might have different ways of expressing it. 

A good friend of mine with whom I worked in community building in Toronto and in Honolulu raised the following concern after one of my fervorinos to keep organizing at the local level.

The challenge is still to get grass-roots organizing happening. Read this quote from Naomi Klein's 'No is not enough' (Halina Bortnowska, a Polish writer) - "You start witnessing these semi-psychotic reactions. You can no longer expect people to act in their own best interests when they're so disoriented, they don't know - or no longer care - what those interests are" That pretty much sums it up for me ... what do old buggers like us do now?

My response is far from grandiose.

What can we old folks do? Not much alone. 

We need to foster community wherever we can--in our neighborhoods, housing complexes, churches, and other associations. We need to affirm our friends and colleagues who demonstrate the democratic republic principles of pluralism, inclusion, and participation. We need to read and discuss in our book clubs and conversations thoughtful opinions based on serious study and evidence. 

We need to critically think after listening to those whose opinions and behaviors are often opposed to their interests. We need to appreciate and join their pain with our own because it's only there that we find the basis for solidarity.

I think we are in a state of social entropy that can only be reversed by the human connection that transcends "sides," "parties," and "tribal thinking." We are at a critical point in the process of humanity. Anything we do that connects us to our immediate neighbor, small that it might be, makes the difference. I think the civility that launches us beyond tribalism starts by saying hello to the passing stranger and recognizing him or her as yourself. 

I have lowered my expectations of being a great thinker and actor. But my ideals are still intact. And so are yours. Only a miracle from a higher power can save humanity now. But it's right here in all of us joined together. Starting one on one. Soul to soul.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Argument

Letter from V responding to Bernie who asked why he is so angry after he gratuitously sent out an article attacking Obama from 8 years ago by a clearly delusional man. See https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/empty-suit/.

Bernie, I am not angry.   I really truly believe my side of the equation.  I could still remember your mon very entrenched in the Democratic Party in Chicago too.  I never said a word.   I just listened.  She was mainly interested in Chicago politics.  --    I believe I have for the most part checked out both sides and I agree with the Fox news.  They are on target.   Just for off my head items:    1)   I believe there should be borders.     2) Abortion ended.   3) Less Regulations.    4) Lower taxes   5) Full employment.   That is happening all over the United States now.    Very healthy.    Yes, it has some disadvantages like slow completions of contracted jobs due to the shortage of qualified employees.  It is happening to me now in NV.   5) The removing of statues of famous people because of past slaves is really stupid.    That just shows how immature this society has become.   --  It goes on and on.    I listened to Rollie for years.   Read his writings and Blogs.   We are so far apart that there is really no use talking to that man.    It is sad.     He is a very nice man with ideas that should be trashed.    No, I am not angry.    I am CORRECT.    6)  I also look up to Rich People.   Most of them really had to work hard or take enormous chances to make it to that position.    Even with a big start, It is very hard to succeed.     Your buddy Soros, has to be a very smart person.    At some point he took a hefty logical chance and won.    He could have lost and we would never hear of him.   He is your savior now.  Why is Soros, Soros?   I don’t have a clue.   He does, I am sure.  Ninety percent of my Jewish friends are on his side too.   They don’t have a clue either.    --    No it is not anger.    I just hate stupidity.     You say that is me.    I say bullshit.  


V, Bernie just sent me your reply to her. Thank you for saying I am a nice man. And I agree that my ideas should be trashed. Like Socrates, I know that I do not know. 

While I am enjoying life very much and loving what I am doing in our local community, I am also daily in touch with mortality. People who have become good friends are always dying in this old folks’ home! I feel I have about 10 years left and want to use them well. 

On the other hand, I am not like Google’s Artificial Intelligence director (Ray Kurzweil, whom I read, admire, and disagree with) trying to achieve biological immortality. I think it is good for the future of humanity that people die. I especially believe that it is important for us old white males to let go. We tend to believe in our own bullshit. We need to trash our ideas and continue to be open for new ways to think and act. But habits do not go easily. 

I agree with your beliefs as listed—e.g., borders, abortion, regulations, taxes, employment. But if we were to talk it out, we would probably disagree on how they might be accomplished and at whose expense. But I have found that in speaking with you, we never talk it out. You just hold on to a position without thinking much about it. You pass out rumors and repeat other people’s judgments without checking up on the evidence for them. I find you do not see the complexities in the world as it is. I have never argued with you, though I’ve tried, because you see everything and especially politics as taking sides—kinda like a football game.  Win/lose, I’m right/You're wrong/ my side/your side.  I can’t do that. Arguing to me means considering a position or an action from many viewpoints and also being willing to search for higher viewpoints. [PS. There is a great Monty Python skit that shows the difference between argument and contradiction. Very funny.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1gf957Qw7A]

I also disdain name-calling that puts persons in boxes without indicating what is meant, e.g. socialist/capitalist, left/right, friend/enemy, losers/winners, right to life/right to choose, democrat/republican, progressive/conservative. That’s done all the time in cable TV and talk-radio. It adds nothing. It is never "either-or" for me—even "both-and” is too limiting. 

I know we have very different values and perspectives. I still consider myself a Companion of Jesus (the one before all the myths were written about him as I learned in my Jesuit studies). I take on his attitude (as St Paul urged) toward the “little ones,” the “ones left out,” the “poor” under thumb of the dominant. Nevertheless, I am very comfortable with and value those who have wealth. Personally, ever since I took the vow of poverty, I have never made getting rich an objective in my life. However, I also defend other people’s wish to pursue wealth. The rich and powerful don’t turn me on. Just not my goal. Not my definition of success.

So, no, I do not look up to rich people any more than I look up to poor people. I hope I don't look up to or down on anyone. When I look at systems of hierarchy (whether in business, church, or state), I see systems of oppression. I resolve to oppose anyone or institution (governmental or private) who would pursue wealth by screwing other people.

My democratic-republican values in my own path to American citizenship has me deplore economic and political inequality and injustice and all the systems that cause it. When I say, “freedom and justice for all,” I really mean it and want to make it happen. I know that not everybody thinks that way. I am grateful that my own personal persuasions and religion can contribute to, but not dominate, the public arena. I realize that I must continue to transcend even my own beliefs, values, and positions. That for me is the meaning of faith. Ever transcending.

While we are so different in our backgrounds and values, I believe that people with different opinions can enter into other perspectives and understand others' values in ways that advances thought. But that takes what some call critical thinking that acknowledges the complexity of the human condition. I read, go to lectures, take classes, discuss with many people who disagree with me and I learn so much from them. I am constantly adjusting especially if they are too. It is not just a matter of shouting beliefs based on authority. It is working together to understand together, finding common ground from where to start, and respecting where people are coming from. That is why I quit listening to you and all your missives wind up in my junk box. I’ve heard them all before and nothing changes. 

Nevertheless, I do love you and wish you well. I won’t talk politics or religion with you.  But I’ll be glad to go to gun targeting practice with you again and talk about sports and movies. I wrote a book on spirituality and another on faith. Both need a lot of critique, but that may be too close to religion and politics.

Another PS. I just read American Ulysses: A life of Ulysses S. Grant by Ronald White and Jill Lepore’s wonderful new book on American History These Truths. Both are very comforting because they show me how we got here and that we have been here many times before.  Everyone talks about being polarized and I suppose many are. But I’m not feeling that way. But then I don’t make any claim that I am CORRECT.

Conclusion NOT. V wrote a response that indicated that he had no understanding as to what I was saying here. And he made assumptions about me and my family that were totally off the mark. I must admit my own incapacity to communicate to him. I see and accept him as a very unhappy old white man. May he rest in peace.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Assimilation and Acculturation

The worst thing the founders did was build slavery into the American political economy and so creating a house divided. Even after civil war, suffrage, and freedom movements, there remains a norm of propertied white male Protestant Christian preeminence which raises its standard from time to time often provoked by autocratic populist leaders.

The best thing the founders did was declaring the freedom of and from religion linked with the freedom of speech and assembly and so setting the American ideal as freedom and justice for all.

Immigration policy has historically wavered between these two standards which I name assimilation vs. acculturation.

The acculturation standard (I realize I am redefining its meaning) welcomes people of all ethnic origins, religious persuasions, tribal languages, sexes, sexual orientations which are consigned to the private sphere of household affairs.  This standard entrusts citizenship to the public sphere which sets its own visions and rules, its own policies and rules, and which is open to all as equals while protecting their privacy. 

This is why we can distinguish a private, (household, ethnic, tribal) culture and a public (American, democratic republican) culture. Another way of putting it, we have a personal religion and a civil religion. 

The assimilation standard does not recognize this division between private and public. It requires citizenship to be, or at least tending to be, in sync with Euro/Anglo, Protestant Christian, private propertied, heterosexual male values. And to be honest, I admit that this Euro/Protestant private culture and religious persuasion did indeed shape the public culture and religion in the thirteen original states.  

But the growth of the nation in size and in democratic republican ideals allowed many other cultures and religious persuasions to continue in the reshaping of that public culture and religion even to the point of amending the constitution and passing new laws. In the 1950s this was recognized in Will Herberg’s book, Protestant, Catholic, and Jew (which he might amend today adding Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, Feminist, LGBT, Universalist, and Secular Humanist) as ways of being American. 

I think there are few people in America who want to judge persons by the color of their skin, their sex, their sexual orientation (even though biases linger and so do certain institutions). While there are too many hate crimes, very few Americans hate one another or newcomers—especially once they come to know each another. I also think that, while we can value pluralism and multiculturalism, we have a right and a responsibility to work for a unified public culture and expect persons to act in a civil way according to generally agreed-upon norms. Our law is not Sharia, Canon, Confucian, or Biblical law, even though we might learn something from these traditions.

Pluralism or multiculturalism in no way opposes unity and cohesion. No more than the public sphere opposes the private sphere. Where one is strong so is the other. And vice versa.

We are all on a path to citizenship, whether we are born here or elsewhere. That means we abide in a public culture which we call American democracy with its values, language, and rules of civility. We can and should criticize and help shape that culture so that it more closely achieves its ideals of equality, freedom and justice in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in a democratic, nonviolent way. Those of us who behave, serve, and act civilly are the true citizens. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

David Brooks is a Nationalist?

David Brooks is a Nationalist? He said so in a recent article. But he also described what he meant.

He meant that his main claim of reference and where he most finds the characteristics that define himself and his interests is not in neighborhood or village or city, though all these are important. Nor in the international or global realm, but in his country--the US of America. Thus he calls himself a nationalist, not a globalist or a statist or regionalist.

I guess that's okay.  If it is descriptive.  But not if prescriptive.

I am not a nationalist and I don't want to be.

My problem with nationalism (e.g. America Firstism) is that it easily turns to fascism. (Merriam Webster:  a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.) 

I am an American. But not a patriot, right or wrong, as in "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundral" (Sam Johnson). I identify with humanity, not only in America. I especially identify with those who aspire to, but are left out of, the opportunity for human fulfillment or full actualization. As an American, I work hard to practice my citizenship, to make America a place of opportunity for human fulfillment, i.e. public and private happiness. I also oppose my country and my government when I discover it denying the human rights of people in or out of my country.

Go be a nationalist, David Brooks. Your decision.  But not mine.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Civil Religion

In the leisure of aging years, I struggle to understand the distresses of our present situation: the persistence of racism, deterioration of democratic institutions, wars without end, polarizing division in politics, growing gaps in equality, exercise of power through fear, hatred of others outside tribe or party, calls for obstruction over collaboration, protection of the instruments of violence. 

Why this concern, you ask. I love life; and life is prolonged and enriched through purpose and association. I care for my family and especially my grandchildren. I care for my friends. I care for my associates seeking social meaning and justice. I care for my community, my country, and a world whose future is in doubt. 
Guided by old mentors[i]and new ones,[ii]I have reviewed the fragile connection between politics and economy, American democracy and American capitalism, and discovered their contradictions. One is bottom-up with horizontal decision-making among persons who are equals deliberating on behalf of the common good. The other is hierarchical with vertical decision-making on behalf of private profit. 

The principle of democracy, presently in critical decay, is the subordination of economic life and institutions to public good. In politics, citizens and their representatives leave their households and businesses to form a public to oversee, limit, regulate, and protect the private sphere—including households, tribes, clans, companies, clubs, and other associations. In other words, the public good outweighs private goods; public happiness is a condition for private happiness.  When the goal of a public and its institutions (government) is subjected to private or special interests, both the public and privacy are jeopardized. 

And that is what many observers confirm is happening. The evidence is in the influence by lobbyists on political deliberation; oligarchs using their corporations to fund candidates and officials; the public good consisting in the sum of private goods; Gross National Product, rather than Public Happiness, as the criterion of success of the nation; bailouts for too-big-to-fail financial institutions; investment in private ventures rather than people; socialization of risks and privatization of profit; and tax breaks for the wealthy subsidized by lower classes. American politics and economy are not just out of sync; they are in contention. Some say that democracy cannot exist without free market capitalism. I discover the contrary.

But beyond the forms, objectives, nature, and ordering of economy and politics, it is important to see both in relation to culture. When Alexis De Tocqueville studied Democracy in America, he turned to the mores of people. He investigated how they lived with one another, what they considered good behavior, the values and the beliefs that shaped their behavior, their “habits of the heart” in order to understand the foundations of their private and public behavior. 

Culture consists in the myths, values, big ideas, worldview of a society as expressed in their religion, philosophy, arts, sciences, and education. The leaders of the Continental Congress founding the nation learned from the experience and philosophy of England from Magna Carta to John Locke.  They also learned from their colonial history and experience--from the self-ruling Puritans who settled Massachusetts and the tolerance of Roger Williams founding Rhode Island.  

When the framers of the constitution insisted on freedom of and from religion, the disestablishment of religion, they made the key distinction for democratic governing between the private and the public. They relegated personal persuasions, traditional beliefs, ethnic customs, tribal loyalties, family practices, local mutual associations to the private realm in order to form and enhance a public realm. The public would protect and support the private.  It would also assure that private behavior would not undermine or prevail over the public realm but support it through participation and representation.


There are other important distinctions that cut across both the private and the public realms, for example, individual and social, sacred and secular, virtues and vices. Each has its own culture to support it. Each has its own language, myths, habits, values.  Each has its own understanding of virtue and vice, of the individual in association, and of the sacred and secular.  Each has its own culture including myths, religion, and philosophy

While one realm supports the other, it is essential that each maintains the distinction between public and private and the division of its institutions.  It is so important to recognize when an individual or group of individuals acts privately or as a public citizen and when private behavior has public consequences. This is the distinction that allows for and applauds multiculturalism while at the same time enjoys unity and cohesion. That unity is achieved in the public realm where people from all cultures, ethnicities, traditions, religious persuasions, ideals, and aspirations create a civil culture, civic virtue, civic morality, civil religion, and civilization itself. The foundation of that unity is in human existence as reaching out to organize a common world, reaching in to the indispensable relationship to others, reaching up to continually transcend the products of our expression of the world with others. 

It follows then that the characteristics of a democratic republic are:

1.    Distinction from the private realm and division of their institutions. (e.g. church-state) [Big question: How do the private and public cultures and behaviors relate?] 
2.    Inclusion of all persons in constituting and shaping the public. (e.g. equal participation for persons from many traditions and persuasions, non-discrimination). [What is citizenship?]
3.    Priority of public good over private goods. (e.g. political (public) unity in cultural (private) diversity). [How far to regulate individual and corporate behavior for good of all? The rights of minorities and those without power?] 
4.    Protection and fostering of private rights of all persons and groups of persons. (e.g. religious/cultural/racial/sexual/age liberty). [Who is a person?]
5.    Equality under the law enacted by the public through its institutions. [Is criminal justice system fair? Is capital punishment acceptable?]
6.    Exercise of rights to speak, serve, and act, associate and organize, inquire, criticize, and protest (e.g. life, liberty, pursuit of happiness [What are minimum conditions for nutrition, shelter, education, safety?]

From its foundation to this very moment, the American experience and experiment with democracy and culture, including religion, has been an exercise in lofty ideals and hypocritical practice. The compromises on which the Republic was founded included 1) the maintenance of slavery and servitude, 2) the oppression, removal, concentration of native peoples, persons of color, and refugees, 3) the servility of women, 4) the harassment of different life-styles. All these practices were and are exercised through private institutions of households, churches, businesses, clubs and associations protected and often promoted through political parties, civic law, and public neglect of suffering Americans. 

In assisting working-class neighborhoods and communities of color organize themselves for equity and justice, Saul Alinsky would counsel leaders to make authorities live up to their own “bullshit.” Well the “bullshit” is the civic culture, the civil religion, the American myth, idea, ideal. He called it “bullshit” because it was not being realized. Granted that the American ideal of a democratic republic or freedom and justice for all or a more perfect union is aspirational, if citizens are not moving towards that ideal and embodying that ideal in their actions, then that ideal and its public has already ceased to be. 

The civil religion has a content: A language, a creed, certain rites, mores, and morality, carried forward by its traditions in history and evolving into the future as the public realizes its ideals in changing circumstances. Some of that content can be discovered in the founding documents, some in the farewell addresses of presidents and in the articulations of public historians and philosophers. Many are printed on monuments on the Public Mall in DC.

But like the religions expressed in churches, synagogues, mosques, and other private places, the civil religion is primarily expressed in the values and acts of its adherents, its representatives, its officers. And highest office in a democratic republic is that of citizen.


[i]John Dewey, Hannah Arendt, Karl Polanyi
[ii]Roberrt Kuttner, Wolfgang Streeck, 

Monday, September 10, 2018

It's About Time!

It’s About Time!

Is time real or an illusion? And who gives a damn?

Physicist Lee Smolin does, and he asks about it in his book:Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe. After reading it, I care about it too as a philosopher who believes that philosophy, informed by science, is a way of life. How I answer the question of time as real or illusion makes a difference in my approach to world. I consider that this meditation on time is an exercise in spiritual growth.

Smolin first presents the case for time as an illusion from modern physics which seeks invariable truth underlying the world we experience. Modern science from Newton to Einstein discovered the laws of matter and motion both at the macro astronomic and the micro quantum levels of nature. Now the universe of space-time can be explained by understanding initial conditions and the timeless and universal laws of everything that is. Well, not everything.

Not everything yet; for the search is still on for the Theory of Everything that would include dark matter and gravity and the initial conditions of the universe itself. String theory, many physicists conjecture, may be the provenance of this unified field theory that combines the Standard Theory with Quantum Gravity to reach, as Stephen Hawkins called it (metaphorically), the very mind of God.

Here the objective of the pure unlimited desire to know reaches towards the timeless, eternal, absolute reality—the Transcendentals, the One, then True, the Good beyond the transitory things of our ephemeral world. Time is relative and therefore a mere shadow of the timeless realities of the universe.

Or so goes the drive to know from the lovers of wisdom Plato and Aristotle to Hegel and Heidegger.  Then Heidegger, who proclaimed all philosophy a footnote to Plato, began to center in on the Dasein (being-there) of human consciousness as Zeit (time) through which Sein (Reality) reveals itself.

New science, according to Smolin, and especially the new formulation of quantum mechanics, comprises a new moment that succeeds the proven Standard Theory by considering time, not only as real, but as the fundamental reality from which even space emerges. Smolin’s physics resonates with Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigogine’s chaos or complexity theory of an open universe of diverse possibilities. Science and philosophy converge on the fundamental reality of time. 

Smolin argues that “time and its passage are fundamental and real and the hopes and beliefs about timeless truths and timeless realms are mythology.” Reality, he says, “consists only of what’s real in each moment of time. This is a radical idea, for it denies any kind of timeless existence or truth—whether in the realm of science, morality, mathematics, or government. All those must be reconceptualized to frame their truths within time.”
Uh, oh—postmodern relativity! There goes truth in morality, in politics, religion. No timeless laws of nature? Does that mean that the Constitution, the rights of humanity, the tenets of virtue, the divine truths of religion, the invariable laws of science; and does this mean that transcendent values and beings do not exist? “Truth is not truth,” said the President’s attorney. “Alternative facts,” said his publicist. 

Not so! In earlier writings, by rejecting the delusion of the absolute and of determinism that I discovered in science and philosophy, I assumed the mantle of a postmodern thinker. However, I argued that there were two postmodernisms—one of which I reject. That is the thinking that would replace the unconditional absolute of modernity with relativity. This means that there is no firm basis for the knowledge of reality and for judgment as to what is true. (Ironically, the relativity so deplored by conservatives returns us to the fallacy of the objective and the illusion of the absolute—the what to which truth is relative.)

Rather, I accept the postmodern thinking that would assert not the relativity of things, but their relationality. Every reality can be understood in terms of its internal and external relations; that is, how its components are related and how it is related to all other things. Smolin expresses that a relational universe is a corollary of the proposition that time is real and fundamental to all that there is. Another way of saying this is that all things can be explained, and can only be explained, in the moment in which they are—a moment of the ongoing flow of time which is a succession of moments.

This, however, begs the question (not raised by Smolin) as to what a moment is and how it becomes a moment in time. I suggest letting a line represent the arrow of time from past to future. And let points on the line represent its moments starting in the middle with the present moment and then positioned before and after to represent past and future moments. The universe and all things in the universe exist in the present moment and can be explained in this moment by those minds, natural and artificial, with capacity to understand. 

In geometry, a point has no dimensions. There are infinite points on a line, each of which is infinitely divisible. In cosmology, a moment can be infinitesimally small, a particle in a particle. Or it can be cosmically large—like an era or epoch or age.

Past moments have passed, and the realities of those moments are gone. However, there may be evidence of them in the present moment (artifacts, DNA, recordings) so that the explanation of them might be reconstructed. Dinosaurs are no longer real though, based on what is real in the present, we can affirm that they were real in a past moment and had certain characteristics, diet, behaviors, etc. 

Also, realities (things, events) of the future might be predicted based on evidence in the present. But the future is open. Seemingly invariable laws of nature are subject to unforeseen and chance fluctuations so that predictions can ultimately be falsified or verified by new evidence. Evidence of climate change abounds in the present. Based on meteorological data being collected, synthesized, and formulized, we can make predictions regarding the future effects for the earth and its inhabitants. However, because of fluctuations in the data, partially caused by the accumulation of the change and partially caused by the behaviors of the inhabitants of the earth to the change, those predictions for the future are totally indeterminate.

This is the picture of a cosmology in which time is real and there are no timeless beings, events, places, or anything outside time that is governing or determining what was, is, or will be reality and its formulations into laws of nature.

How do moments of time become? How are these points on the time line put? Points are put on the line by pointing. 

We point by a gesture, e.g. the forefinger extended to something, as a sign to a teammate. Or by a verbal gesture when we name a thing and use it, explore it, dissect it, change it, or exchange it. We point by using a symbol to count it.  We point by using an image as an analogy to classify it. We point by using mathematic and other symbols to conjecture and ultimately affirm its internal and external relationships. 

Time and the realities of its moments became known when humanity on earth (and who knows what else on what other planet) acquired the ability to not only have, but also to use images to tell something to someone.  [I recount this ability to imagine, articulate, express, and shape a world in many of my earlier writings and will not repeat that account here.]  And in the exercise of this capacity to communicate arises the consciousness of self and others interacting to a world in time. The ancients called this sense of self in the world psyche or spirit. Medievalists called it divine image, inner light, or soul. Moderns called it Geist or mind. Contemporary philosophers, like Heidegger and his students, called it time. 

Time is the consciousness of our human organisms as we interact with each other in creating our world, our past and our future. It is the sense of transcendence, moving on from where we are and came to an open, undetermined future. We experience our conscious existence as a drive to know or, as AN Whitehead described it, the Unity of Adventure, the urge to all possibilities. 

The illusion and reality of the self has been discussed by contemporary philosophy informed by biology and neuroscience. The human body is conscious. We human beings feel ourselves in interaction with others as we communicate, use images, words, and symbols, to reach out to our world to understand it and shape it. We are self-conscious. We are conscious of ourselves in relation to other selves, to our environment, to our past and our future. 

Is time real or an illusion. Is the real, the fundamental principle of all that is, outside time in some timeless being, event, place, or law. Or is the real time itself? Time as nature and time as consciousness. 

What difference does it make? If time is of the essence, then nothing is outside or beyond time. Anything that exists is in and of time. Time is the universe of all that is. And the universe is time, the relationship of all things to all things, the progression of moments within which all things are related. If we accept the reality of time and our place within it, we accept our role and responsibility within time. That make a huge difference, if you think about it. It means that what we think and what we do will direct and project our world. 

I suggest that time is both real and an illusion. Through our ability to imagine and express, we humans discover and make things and events in time. At the same time or in the same moment we experience ourselves so doing. We make time, we feel time, we discover ourselves and all things in time.  Most important, we become and shape time. My time is your time and our time is in line with universal time, the flow of the universe whose moments we discover and create as both actual and artificial, real and illusory. The illusion of self-consciousness encounters the reality of a universe. 

Evolution becomes conscious in us, said the poet scientist. The arrow of time achieves meaning and direction in us. Should we accept that responsibility and role? Should we spend our time discovering, making, and joining time with others in our world? This is our vocation. This is the fundamental option of human existence.

Make time for ourselves and for each other. Make time for the world in which we all exist. Make time for the future of our children, our communities, our earth, and our species. This is our time. Let’s use it. 




Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Is the Pope Catholic?

That's a jocular response to a question that has an obvious answer.

But now it's a not so funny response in the light of the priest child abuse revelations that seem to have reached a crescendo. (Maybe?)  So much is being written about it that I cannot resist my urge to express, and thus find, my own views.

Pope Francis, in his recent letter denouncing and apologizing for the abuse of youth by contemporary priests, tries to get to a root cause by highlighting the "clericalism" of the Church. Clericalism is that separate class of special people closer to the Holy One (which the early Jesus people rejected). But it is more.  It is hierarchy in which some persons have authority and control over others which harks back to the patron system of the Roman empire (that the Jesus people fought). And then of course it is the sexism and paternalism of male domination (also rejected by the Jesus people).

The problem is not just the culture of the church as expressed in doctrines and rites. It is how the church is organized as an institution. Moreover, the abuse of clerics, like the abuse of politicians, lawyers, and bureaucrats goes beyond sexual predation. It is the abuse of power. Like rape.

If the Church is to truly root out this abuse, it will get rid of the clerical class, flatten the hierarchy, and renounce paternalism and sexism. Communities will choose their conveners based on agreed upon criteria. And these conveners will choose their overseers or administrators--or at least recommend them to the world church leader (e.g. Pope, President) selected by the overseers.

Leaders will be male and female demonstrating their ability to support their families as good dads and moms and to be leaders with civic virtue in their neighborhoods, cities, and community associations. As for any job, there may be some educational requirements as agreed to by the people in congregation.  No female or married priests. Just no priests!

Time for a Vatican III, Pope Francis?

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

New Great Awakening


My previous reflection (8-4-18) was on culture, especially religion, private and public. The genius of the founders was building a public while distinguishing it from the private. Persons and groups in the private realm could have their own opinions, worship their own divinities, and make their own livelihoods. And we as a people of many households and traditions can enjoy unity from the many, as our coins of the realm say, by sharing common ideas and spaces.

Frank Rich, columnist for the New York Magazine, just wrote another of his great articles entitled In 2008 Americans Stopped Believing in the American Dream. He describes the depression we endure, the disruption of the political order, the mistrust of democratic institutions as I have done earlier in these reflections. He agrees that this depression, disruption, and mistrust was building long before Trump who is merely a symptom, not a cause, of our discontent. He believes that the crash of 2008 was the turning point for the old white men, Trump's base, who bought into the American Dream.

My favorite sentence in Rich's piece is: "Perhaps the sole upside of the 2008 crash was that it discredited the Establishment of both parties by exposing its decades-long collusion with a  kleptocratic economic order." Yes, the American Dream, like all the dreams we have while sleeping, was not real. Like "10 acres and a mule" promised to liberated black slaves, like continuing increase in equality promised to a working class playing by the rules of the free market economy--just pipe dreams sold by the wealthiest of con-men.

Rich is agreeing with the analysis of Streek, Kuttner, Polanyi, Arendt, Harrington and the others I have been citing in my attempt to understand what is happening to our nation. The capitalist economy and its institutions have supplanted the reign of democratic politics and its institutions. Private pleasure of consumption overcomes public happiness through participation.

Economic growth, i.e. product and wealth, has become the American measure of success, the line between "winners" and "losers" in the game of life, and the divine attribute of the American religion. Ayn Rand and Milton Freeman are contributors to the American Dream Bible. Ronald Reagan and Paul Ryan are the ordained ministers preaching the Word of the Dream. Increasing consumption of the resources of the earth is not only our human right; it is our religious rite. Be happy. Make money. Go shopping.

And that is why we, perhaps like many life supporting planets in the universe, are reducing our chances for survival. There is substantial evidence that we are destroying both the material, social, and, I would add, religious or spiritual habitat that sustains our life. The recent piece in the NYT by Frank Rich’s son, Nathaniel, make that case quite well.

But again, my invincible hope kicks in. Yes, Frank, 2008 was the beginning of the end of the American Dream and Trump is the clearest harbinger of our loss. But this calls not for a restoration of that Dream, but a revival of the American public religion that can be discovered throughout human existence, enhanced by the great liberators in our own American history whose virtues conflict with the habits of those who depress and oppress the spirit of transcendence within us. Those habits are immediate satisfaction of material needs, choosing sides mine against yours, fear and distrust of strange people and strange ideas, and, above all, disenchantment of the earth and of public space. The Trumpian turn we now experience suppresses the spirit of unity and collaboration.

But it can also recall that spirit of commonality which we have forgotten and neglected. I won’t go so far as to say that Trump is God’s gift to us. Nor do I blame God for famine, blight, and destruction and other evils. I think we generally know what our civil religion is. Most of us welcome immigrants and refugees. Most of us value free speech and press along with honesty. Most of us know that abusing children and women, torture, and other forms of cruelty is wrong. I think we know the meaning of civic virtue because we have so many who have practiced it in our history. 

To restore our democratic republic, we need a revival of our democratic religion--a reaffirmation of the beliefs, attitudes, values, but most of all, the practices and virtues of that republic. I do not think it will be achieved by the printing of a new catechism or by the construction of a new temple. It will not be achieved by governmental, ecclesiastical, or corporate institutions, nor by force of law--though all these could help. 

It will be achieved by people practicing civility, engaging in civil service, and acting for social justice. I see it happening all around us, those “thousand points of light,” the elder Bush called it. Young students organizing to stop gun killing. Athletes taking a knee against racial violence. Women refusing to be groped by men in power. Organizers and leaders now forming community organizations in cities and towns throughout the nation to hold local corporations and governments accountable. Firmly but without violence or rancor. 

This may be an opportunity for a religious revival in America. Not just a Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Islamic, Jewish, Unitarian revival, not just a revival of democratic republican parties, not just a revival of families and neighborhoods—but of all of them working together to revive an American spirit that feeds and is fed by them. The rebirth of the new nation called for by Abraham Lincoln at another time of crisis. The restoration of radical democratic politics in America is concomitant with the renewal of the democratic republican or public religion in America.

On the Bicentennial of the American nation, 1976, the Catholic Bishops called for a movement of renewal called “Liberty and Justice for All.” It was a good idea and some wonderful things came out of it including a strong critique of the fundamentalist free-market economyand major support for organizing publics at the local level.

But perhaps on the 250thanniversary, i.e. 2026, all the churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, labor unions, civic associations, and community organizations will proclaim a new Great Awakening of the enduring values of freedom and justice, life, liberty, and the pursuit of public happiness over egotistic pleasure. It can’t be a Christian thing or a Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist thing.  It can’t be a Democratic or Republican thing. It can’t be a Conservative or Liberal thing.  It can’t be a Coast or Heartland thing, a rural or urban thing. It’s got to be all those things.

We don’t have much time so we better start working on this. I want to be around to see it. In the meantime, keep the faith, keep up the struggle.