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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.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

A Tale of Two Cultures


The distinction of public and private, household and polis, gives us some ancient tools to think about the relation between economy and politics. 

But what about culture--the realm of words, values, mores, myth, religion, education, art, philosophy, and science? If symbolic behavior is a defining capacity of being human, the products of symbolic expression, i.e. culture, are what organize our human world. Both in private and in public realms.

Take art and religion. There are the household arts, e.g. my meager home carpentry skills, and civic art, e.g. the statues and painting adorning state capitols and art galleries.  In both Rome and other civilizations, there are the household gods which, representing ethnic and tribal traditions, inspired and protected families.  And there are the public gods like Jupiter, Hera, Minerva, Neptune in the founding myths of the Republic, invoked in the public realm. The household religions are the sites of family devotions and mores.  The civic religion, its doctrines, temples, and rituals, comprise the self-understanding, values, and virtues of the community.

The thirteen states which ratified the Constitution of the United States of America recognized a pluralism of cultures in the private realm while working towards a more perfect union in the public realm through universal rights, public education, and democratic republican politics. The Constitution has had to be amended many times in order to achieve the aspirations of a democratic Republic dedicated to ex pluribus unum.

There is no State religion. All natives and newcomers are free to have their own religious opinions or to have no religion at all.  For the household or private realm, all religions, moralities, lifestyles, ethnicities, languages, traditions are permitted.  But in the public realm, there is a civil religion, language, art, morality (civility), custom, and law that all citizens should learn to employ. This is an evolving culture that incorporates new values and modifies old ones through the process of interaction among peoples. 

For example, in Hawaii, men can wear aloha shirts almost everywhere, whether in corporate board rooms or governmental agencies.  But in the legislature and the courts a suit and tie are expected.  In California, nakedness on public beaches and parks (except in certain designated spaces) is forbidden. Almost everywhere, having sexual intercourse, whether heterosexual or homosexual, as long as it is not abusive, is okay in private, but not in public. New citizens, though unrestricted in private, should do well to adopt the prevailing mores, customs, languages, doctrines, attires, and rituals of the public when in public. All residents are under the law unless they judge a law to be unjust, which they break through civil disobedience by accepting the consequences of its enforcement.

Americans accept a secular state that favors no one religion or religion at all.  But sacred places, moments, experiences, and expressions are not confined to the private realm. The civic religion in the public realm the state often supports. This expression of common values is discovered in the founding documents, on historic monuments, and in the speeches of presidents that embrace the equality, liberty, and unity of all citizens though different in tradition, ethnicity, race, and opinion. 

There is a long tradition in political thought from Plato to MLK that extols the role of virtue, e.g. morality and even spirituality, in public life. I like Cicero's expression best: "There is  nothing in which human virtue approaches the divine more closely than in the founding of new publics or the preservation of existing ones." This to me is an expression of the vocation of organizing, leading, and participating in "civic and political associations" (de Tocqueville).

Cicero teaches that virtue is more important than pleasure and that it can only be achieved in the exercise of it. Moreover, civic virtue is the highest of all. It is the “source of piety and religion, of justice, good faith, and equity, of modesty, moderation, and courage.”

The highest of goals is public happiness--enjoyment in the creation and participation of community. This exceeds private happiness or pleasure in attaining wealth and satisfying material needs. Politics is the extension of ethics, the responsibility of and for us all.