Philosophy and Religion
10/3/10The Air Force Academy Must Be Cleaned Up
A couple days ago a note was passed to me about yet another report of rampant, militant, Christian evangelical, fundamentalists in the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. The problem at the Academy is not getting enough attention, especially in this bizarre election campaign season, but it needs to get full attention, now.
I have written here and elsewhere about the pernicious influence of far right wing Christian fundamentalists in the Armed Forces, particularly at the Air Force Academy, where the problem got so bad a while back that a national hew and cry went up and there was supposed to have been an investigation and clean up. Well, there wasn't and the situation is all the more dangerous because of that. It is like stopping a course of anti-biotics before you're cured. The germs remaining are the tough-to-kill germs and they are now forewarned about people who think they are bad news.
Well, I appreciate SueZ bringing this up, but there is more to be said about the situation. These are not, definitely NOT, benign people. They are a malignancy that threatens the safety of the entire planet. The reason is that Christian fundamentalists are not reasonable. They do not hold rational beliefs about the nation. They believe in an apocalypse that will come very soon. They are in the position in SAC B-52s and missile silos, and in Polaris submarines, to pull the trigger on the authority they recognize ... which is not the Commander-in-Chief, but their version of God.
Look, if they were doctrinal Christians, they wouldn't be in the armed forces at all. They would have subscribed to the pacifistic core of Christianity and not to the "Onward Christian Soldiers" malarky that we drag out for our wars to convince the reticent to enlist. They are quite the reverse. They are the instruments of God's will, and they get to choose what they think God's will is. And, people on the ground, pastors with no credentials in public affairs, international relations, or anything else (often including theology, amazingly) get to make decisions for those who are used to taking order without questioning them ... like Air Force cadets and Air Force colonels hoping for selection to flag rank ... and Navy officers with captive audiences on their ships.
No. This is has gone far enough. Colorado Springs is not the right place for the Air Force Academy and the reason is that it is by itself a hotbed of right wing Christian fundamentalism. Moving the Academy from this place would only partly solve the problem, and admittedly moving it is not going to happen soon ... but it should.
What must happen and must happen quickly and surely and forcefully, is a complete house cleaning of the Academy from the top down. Begin now and finish it in three years. Complete house cleaning ... and expulsion of any and all cadets implicated in the harassment of other cadets on religious grounds. Period. Can their asses! We don't want any of them anywhere near a nuclear warhead or launch code. They cannot be trusted.
9/21/10"Teetering on the Apocalypse"--James Carroll
James Carroll, in Monday's Boston Globe wrote a column that is very worthy of your time. "Teetering on the Apocalypse" makes a point lightly that should be hammered until everyone knows that the implication is the danger of planetary annihilation, and worse, it is purposeful annihilation. You don't have to go back to Jonestown to understand how utterly brainwashed people react to "orders" from on high. The idea that a prophecy of apocalypse is a) real, and b) about to happen, is the most dangerous idea a species could have. But, yet, here it is, throbbing in the hind-brains of literally millions of mindless people, caught up with their childish egos still central to the universe and cock sure they (but not you) will be "saved."
The point the Carroll makes about those people who believe this "revelation" is that they vote. They vote in America, in American elections, and they vote for people just as misguided and mentally unstable as themselves. With TeaParty candidates dotting the landscape, more crazy apocalpse-seeking candidates will win. The law of averages says they will. Each such win is a nail in our planetary coffin. Yes, there are ideas so dangerous that they must be fought at every turn. Apocalypse-ism is the very worst of these.
9/17/10The Jaundiced British Eye
SueZ at The American Liberalism Project and I have a last common ancestor who died suddenly in 1760 or so, leaving his bride with three young sons to raise. That man's ancestors trail on back to the time of John and Priscilla Alden, Captain Miles Standish, et al, among whom this "colonial ancestor" of ours, a bare twenty, but educated in maths, literature, and the sciences of the day, performed much of the surveying of lands purchased from the Wampanoag tribe who had nearly two decades earlier been at that now famous autumn harvest meal we call Thanksgiving.
Our William came across the Pond nearly a generation after the group who sailed on the Mayflower, arriving in 1639 in Duxbury. The reason he ventured out of Sussex or Kent (or both) was that the King of England at the time, Charles I, was deeply mistrusted (ultimately executed, beginning the Commonwealth Period of English history) for his leanings toward the Roman Catholic Church (and taking a Roman Catholic for his wife). Charles was not the brightest candle in the chandelier of the English monarchy, and his emulation of the new breed of autocratic monarchs served neither himself or the nation. Rather he cemented a distaste for Rome that might have otherwise eroded over time.
All of these thoughts flashed through my head this morning as I read Roger Cohen's column in the New York Times on the arrival of the first pope to visit England in over 400 years. Benedict XVI could not have been a more poorly chosen emissary to that sceptered isle, as Cohen clearly points out.
The interesting thing about the visit is the tone-deafness that pervades the entourage of the Pope, the almost studied indifference to the the real world havoc created by thousands of child rapes at the hands of Roman Catholic priests and under the averted eyes of the Roman Catholic nomenclatura including Benedict himself, once specifically detailed as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to "take care of" this affront to civilization, but which he steadfastly attempted to sweep under the rug. It is interesting that the people of England and of Europe, generally, are disgusted with Rome and her emissaries, with her medievalism and recalcitrance in the face of modernity.
As last week's issue of New Yorker magazine concentrated on the C St. fundamentalists of recent notoriety and the quiet evangelism of the power elite that is their mission, secular England has to put up with the likes of Benedict, and they are not the least bit happy about it (either). Fortunately, the press is not cowed by strong secular talk anymore, and although the "rampant new atheism" of Europe is scorned by the power elites of the corporate press and pulpit in America, the time is nearly here when a young person can opt out of the conspiracy of social control that religion has become. The elites tremble in their palaces, the clergy wring their fat fingers, wondering what is to become of them.
The answer is, of course, that state and church must separate finally, and the means to that end is for thoughtful people to leave their ancestral churches in the lurch, that uncomfortable assertion of freewill that denies the popes and prelates, bishops and pastors their centuries of free lunch.
Of all the worrisome processes underway this year, the current initiative to cool down the struggle between the Palestinians and the Israeli has got to be the most important. Upon the outcome hang several significant possibilities, including a nuclear exchange (or one-way attack) between Iran and Israel. Almost as important is the mid- and long-term stance that the rest of the Muslims take in the Levant and on the Arabian peninsula and in Iran and Egypt. In other words, a lot depends on success, defined as a settlement between the contesting parties.
It goes without saying that the United States has had a special relationship with Israel from the very day of its declaration of nationhood to this very moment. There are three main reasons the U.S. has taken the position it has: one, the post-WWII post-Holocaust situation seemed to demand a Jewish state and homeland. I believe Harry Truman recognized Israel so quickly because he understood this reason. Two, America is home to very large, free, equal, and vocal Jewish communities, each representing a facet of Judaism not necessarily in concord, but always in fundamental agreement about the necessity of the U.S. supporting Israel. Three, ever since the rise of vocal, apocalyptic, fundamentalist Christianity in the post-WWII era Christians of this stripe have sought the fulfillment of "prophecy" (one line in a Psalm) that a reborn Israel, a congregation of the diaspora, a "power" in the region would herald the beginning of the End Times, the Apocalypse, the time when good Christians are raptured up into heaven. Jews understand that these fundamentalist Christians are actually hoping for the elimination of Jews that do not convert during the Last Days and the destruction of the world, Israel included, but they see an ally, so they get along ....
Meanwhile, history does not stand still and the medley of forces that militated for a Jewish state under the post-WWI British Mandate over the former Ottoman territories has been utterly changed by the influx of Jews with other ideas, natural population growth among the Jews themselves and the Palestinians who were so careless as to be on the losing side in the Six Day War. The population and the local "zeitgeist" have changed and struggled through the sixty years of harried nationhood.
Today in the New York Times Gadi Taub, in Tel Aviv, writes about the new imbalances of forces within Israel. For me his article was another wake-up call, a revelation, and a foreboding sensation settled across my understanding of The Israel Problem. I have written recently about Zionism and its ideology of and for Israel. Now I think I see that Zionism is many ideas, some very irrational and very strongly held, nevertheless. I am hoping by drawing attention to this OpEd column today that my Jewish friends will also notice that the "united front" of Zionism is anything but united and that the religious forces (as opposed to the so-called secular ones of Ben Gurian and others) do not augur well for peaceful solutions.
Nothing could be more important to the contemporary world than a peaceful settlement. Nothing. But, Taub's view is that the ground underneath the debate is shifting the wrong way. Let us hope that those with a commitment to a fair and defensible peace are able to turn this tide.
8/23/10Zionism Without Fear or Responsibility
Two days ago I wrote about American Jews leaving the Democratic Party because ... well, because they believe that President Obama is a closet Muslim or that his genes are untrustworthy or that his even-handed attempt to avoid WWIII is going to differentially impact the state of Israel, perhaps even allowing for it to be obliterated by an insane Ahmadinejad in Tehran, Ayatollah in Qum, or other crackpot religious ideologue. I scolded Charles M. Blow for passing over the cause and effect responsibility and for dwelling on the effect on American party politics. It turns out that I left out quite a bit in my facile three-minute cruise to the eastern Mediterranean, too.
There is nothing simple about the state of the State of Israel as this very interesting and very contentious essay by Uri Avnery clearly points out. Israel is riven within by opinions and vehemence bordering on, well, the ironic and the delusional. In Avnery's view the question is one of entelechy, or more simply put, the definition of Zion and Zionism. Scratch a Jew in Brooklyn or Hollywood and you will get two or more distinctly different answers with the probability of having the same net effect. Zion is Israel, the hoped-for Israel, the one there now, but "complete", or the one there now as it is. But Zionism is more than the state or the territory or even the people who believe it. Zionism is an emotional framework that accelerates the idea of a new Israel with fuel from a thousand thousand insults, harassments, murders, genocide, and paranoia.
But, you would think, such a large concept should be manageable within Judaism, even though there are distinct categories of Jew—Hassidic, Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed, etc. and etc. But Zionism is not restricted to Judaism, a point I left out (it seems) of my Saturday essay. James Carroll, of the the Boston Globe to the rescue. He properly examines the Christian fundamentalist Zionism, which one of the most perverse doctrines ever imagined, but by no means impotent or helpless because of its peculiar brand of insanity.
Christian Zionists understand the Bible to say that the Millennium will come when the Jews are in (control of) the full territory of ancient Israel, whereupon the End Days commence and all non-believers, especially the Jews, will be annihilated! Goodness, what a brand of Christian charity they have going!!
This would all be academic or religious nonsense if it were not for politics, that reflection of every facet of our gemlike species. In fact, what I left out of my Saturday essay was the horrible fact that Christian fundamentalist Zionists are playing the war against Islam tune at least as loudly as is AIPAC and the more bellicose among American Jewry. So, yes, WWIII very much depends on the mouth and finger of Ahmadinejad in Tehran, ... but it also depends mightily on the irresponsible and mentally defective machinations of Christian fundamentalist "Zionists."
8/19/10Call Them Ishmael
Three of the modern "monotheistic" religions count themselves as a "family" of Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Judaism of ancient Israel counted its forefather Jacob, grandson of Abraham, as the essential founder. Christianity was founded by Jews in Israel, following the teaching of a Jew from Israel. Islam counts its family tie to Abraham by virtue of the settlement of the descendants of Ishmael, son Abraham, in the Mecca and Medina area.
Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on Abrahamic religions suggests that some analysts believe that Christianity is not exactly a monotheistic religion. Trinitarian godhead, not withstanding, the essential meaning is easily reducible to monotheistic terms. It is all part of the development of the church in a syncretic way among the various paganisms with which it came in contact and the various proclivities of thought differing between Greeks and Romans. Trinitarianism would be calming or befunddling enough at least to keep pagans from questioning too deeply the advancing wave of syncretic Christianity.
But, some in Islam think that Christianity fails the test in the last analysis, and some among Jews think so as well. Can the peculiarities of each monotheism be at the root of all the hostility in this "family?"
An article in the Washington Post Thursday suggests that "conservative writers" are to blame for all the animus and hatred over the building of a mosque in lower Manhattan. When I read this I immediately said it was too facile an idea, a cop out of some kind, a deliberate ignoring of the audience to which these writers write.
It should be noted that adjacent to this article in the Post was one that asserts that fully 20% of Americans now believe that Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslim. How can something as preposterous as this happen? What is really going on?
It is probable that GOP strategists are willing to play the anti-Islam card to win some votes in November from people whose Norman Rockwell imagery of America is so at odds with reality that their cognitive dissonance must be deafening to any facts. The Currier and Ives view of American life is a white church steeple set in a calm and contented and worshipful village, and this no longer exists for 99% of Americans, at least half of whom wish it still did exist. This is the audience, the people who have nurtured strong and comfortable illusions about the country and their place in it. Just beneath the skin of these illusions are festering sores of ancient grudges against strange and ugly religions.
The truth is that there is truth in most of the differences and that "family" is by far the least likely place to find accommodation and amity in matters of faith. As someone said recently, Catholic Americans look upon Southern Baptists with a great deal of alarm and skepticism, and the same goes for Episcopalians and Mormons, Mormons and Christian Scientists, and on and on. It turns out that religion is intolerant, despite all the professions to the contrary. Religions are grab bags for unanswered questions, for undeniably horrid outcomes in life, for knaves and molesters to find havens and prey.
In the sense that the difference between religions are vivid and frightening, ignorance must be the essential element perpetuating hatred and intolerance. If this is true, then perhaps lower Manhattan is exactly the place where a mosque must be built, so that people can take it upon themselves to become less ignorant. And along the same lines, the so-called conservative writers and politicians who flog the fear to the ignorant are actually bringing the day closer when ignorance will be dispelled ... or if not dispelled, then clearly labeled as prejudice and intolerance.
Everyone conscious on 9/11 has an opinion about whether or not a mosque should be built near the place where once stood the fabled World Trade Center towers, destroyed in an act of fanaticism now erroneously equated with those who worship in mosques. Personally, given the rabid rhetoric that has engulfed the public discourse about the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, I think that placing a mosque on or near ground zero is nothing less than a "stick in the eye" for Americans whose understanding of the event has been formed by powerful political forces and cultural prejudices. I am saying that the political-cultural reality is that a serious act of forgiveness and benevolence is so radical an idea even today that it would stand as a provocation to further misunderstanding and violence.
The NYT on Sunday ran a long article about mosques being suggested for places that a scant fifty years ago were quite unsure of what a mosque is and what goes on within them. Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was the archetype for this clashing cultures phenomenon. I have to admit that a middling town in TN is about the last place (excepting Idaho, of course) where I would expect to hear about building mosques. In other words, the idea of mosques is "merely" a reflection of the past 50 years worth of immigration from Islamic culture to America, something a nation of immigrants themselves ought to be able to swallow.
But swallowing is difficult, to be sure. James Carroll in the Boston Globe addresses the issue in a way that will probably not please Roman Catholics (and Carroll used to be a Catholic priest) or run of the mill Zionist Protestants whose aim is to fulfill prophecies not actually expressed in the Christian Bible (but certainly best-selling fictions by end-times authors). Carroll's essay unearths the essential background "Western-Christian" doctrine of violent hostility toward both Jews and Muslims. It is an important essay because you just do not get this kind of historical perspective of our prevailing nearly subconscious prejudices from the media. Perhaps the press does not know.
Carroll goes through the basic litany of the debt European intellectual progress has to Islam, but puts the contemporary "clash of (popular) cultures" question more squarely in an historical context than you probably have seen. The most provocative statement made by Carroll is this:
...Jews were a victim people, but Muslims were a world power. The success of their movement, in fact, was due to its humane and spiritually resonant message, a proclamation of the radical inviolability of each person’s autonomous interior life, which the believer could experience five times daily in prayer....
This is a statement which will, I think, rock many Christians back on their heels. Their understanding of Islam is framed and lighted by the jihadist, rather than the peaceful and contemplative overwhelming majority within Islam. Catholics and Protestants are not now, nor are they expected to be in the near future, ready to understand Islam in its own terms. Islam is the new "communism," an ideology with faith in doctrine at its center, something against which to push, to define oneself, in the absence of a handier process of group affiliation to achieve one's immediate needs for "control" and "identity."
But this must change. Building a mosque at ground zero or in Arlington National Cemetery is not the way to begin, but building in Murfreesboro or Seattle or Las Vegas or Boston or Springfield or, especially Salem, might be a good idea right now.
7/16/10The Vatican Strikes Back
Late last week the Pope and his band of institutional stalwarts said they would try to do better with cases of pederasty/pedophilia arising in the Church, including (imagine!) letting bishops and other nomenclatura of the Church know that hiding these crimes from civil authorities is naughty and should not be countenanced.
The New York Times article on the announcement was quick to point out that along with the pederasty concession, the geniuses in the Vatican decided to equate the crime of ordaining or being female clergy to pederasty—child rape.
So, it was with a great deal of "attagirl" and appreciation that we read Maureen Dowd this morning in the Times and her dismay at the peckerwood attitudes of the Curia and their all too implicated leader. Maureen nails them all and brought my thoughts to the conclusion that the Vatican is completely incapable of renewing itself and the Church they have created from the toil and gullibility of the Catholic masses. I believe with Ms. Dowd that the Vatican has thrown down one of their medieval gauntlets and, unbeknownst to themselves, have forfeited the last vestige of goodwill they might have had.
Then, as luck would have it, I read Frank Rich's very interesting and informative piece about Mel Gibson. Ordinarily I would not have given the subject another second of my time ... and certainly none of his movies my money ... ever ... but Rich is a one-in-a-million journalist and writer, so I read about the machinations and evil-doings of Gibson and his pals ... and of the the Church ... so vile as to challenge the imagination to believe.
I began my series of comments on the crisis of the clergy in the Roman Catholic Church with the hope that Benedict XVI could rise above his past and see the forest in which his vocation is lost. Clearly he has not seen it, but more importantly, he has rejected the strong voices of reason from the new world ... and the old ... calling for modernization of the Church. He and the College of Cardinals and the Curia have with the announcement this week dug in their heels against what they see as unacceptable forces of change. And, so, the die is cast.
The Roman Catholic Church will persist of its own momentum and the need of human beings to find some kind of solace in a universe that is much too large and indifferent for them to grasp and to remain sane amid their own sorrows and afflictions. The Church will push its medieval notions of the human being and, for the lack of a reasonable alternative, the poor and beset will continue to tithe themselves into penury and disconsolation. But, and this is the fulcrum of history ... this very moment ... the educated and those who have means to express their chagrin and disbelief will leave the church and form new alliances among themselves to achieve the message of their theology. The Roman Catholic Church will become in the coming century a very pallid and hollow remnant of weak men's egos and mistakes. You saw the moment when it happened.
7/16/10Dances With Cheney
I am not especially superstitious nor do I marvel at run-of-the-mill coincidences too much. Things happen and there are only a limited, very discrete number of seconds in each day. But, when this morning I opened my email there were two seemingly unrelated pieces of mail.
One was this piece on Dick Cheney's heart, which btw expresses EXACTLY my feeling on the subject.
The other I will reproduce for you in it entirety right here, right now, hoping you have already read the Mark Morford piece.
Of course you have seen the Cherokee aphorism many times. It is good that it appeared today in counterpoint and harmony with Morford, I think.
SueZ is in the hospital again, hoping to be out shortly.
6/13/10Forgiveness Does Not Mean No Consequences
On Friday in the Vatican in a solemn moment during a special mass Pope Benedict XVI asked for forgiveness for the sins of the Roman Catholic Clergy. It was a remarkable moment both for the admission and the incompleteness of the plea. The New York Times reports that additional measures will be undertaken to insure that offending clergy are not given the "Victorian cover" [my term] they have in the past, that is, that bishops, cardinals, and the curia do not read the reticence of the society to speak openly of such things as some kind of permission.
Contrition is the first word to come to my mind. Where is the evidence of contrition. Has the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger ever admitted his culpability in the covering up of the wanton rapes of Catholic school children by Catholic clergy? I do not think so. The reason I do not think so is that it is a crime to cover up a crime and to harbor the original criminal from justice. Benedict would be cutting his own throat.
The second thing that hovered through my thoughts was money. Having just read in The New York Review of Books an article about the nearly psychopathic sexual rampage of a Mexican cleric, Father Marcial Maciel, the founder of the so-called "Legion of Christ", a duly approved Roman Catholic Order rivaling the power and financial means of Opus Dei, ... and seeing the the Vatican protects golden geese even when these are forcing young boys to masturbate Rev. Maciel. The actions of the Vatican can be interpreted easily and wisely as attempts to cap the flow of criticism and outing of additional cases of pederasty and child rape. The Pontiff is looking at the same sort of problem that the CEO of BP is looking at, an uncappable flow of bad news into the gulf of discontent and disbelief growing within the Church and accelerating among the critics outside. Both were involved in the deliberate falsification of information with the goal to bring money into their grasp. Both are responsible (where the buck stops) for damage to a world they were supposed to be helping which will last for generations.
Forgiveness from God is God's business if you will. I will not take Benedict's word for it that God forgives him, however. Benedict's word is not worth much these days. His latest plea shows that he has obviously not learned his lesson, is not truly contrite, and is depending instead on the kindness of a laity which sorely needs a clergy and church that understands the human condition, not one that takes advantage and preys upon it.
5/24/10A Measure of the Man
One of the things that makes the current and by no means passing turmoil within the Roman Catholic Church so very interesting is the all too obvious analogy between the behavior of the Vatican and the behavior of contemporary civil governments. They are all tied to the conventions that got their people into office, and once there, they almost literally cannot see or accept any plan that would change the fundamental power structure, even if it would basically cure the problems that that very power structure creates. This is true in Europe and in the Americas (North and South).
The other thing that makes the trouble in the Roman Catholic Church so riveting is that the Church is so huge, its influence (although waning rapidly) so extensive, and its opportunity for bringing about a truly beneficial change in the way we are on this planet. Whether we like the details of Catholicism or not, there are a billion Catholics out there with human needs and ready to accept even a half loaf of theological metaphysics if it is demonstrated to be even slightly palliative.
So, for weeks now, to the exclusion of writing about President Obama's missed opportunities, Rahm Emanuel's incompetence, Paul Krugman's economic wisdom, and many other subjects of great interest to me, I have been concentrating on the largest question: "will the Roman Catholic Church take this opportunity to reform?"
In the New York Review of Books recently a Princeton Medievalist, Anthony Grafton, wrote a short piece entitled "The Pope and the Hedgehog", for which there is only a teaser available to non-subscribers, but which is worth reading. Grafton begins with valediction to Joseph Ratzinger that will make almost any reformer puke. But, in the end, Grafton makes the point that the "hedgehog-like" behavior of the current Pope, bristling spines at a hostile world, curled up in a self-defeating ball, is exactly what we are seeing. Grafton has trouble with the power structure thing, but that is probably because he knows from all his studies and lectures that the Roman Catholic Church "saved Europe from barbarism" after the final collapse of the Roman Empire. You should know that historicist baloney like that develops its own logic and is shared widely by those, like Grafton and Ratzinger, who have irons in that fire ... still.
Then, this morning, my colleague in New York City, sent me a piece from the Irish Times written as an open letter to Pope Benedict by Hans Kueng ( KÜNG) an old acquaintance of Joseph Ratzinger, a theologian of immense importance. This "letter" is a thorough indictment of the man who is now Pope for his failure to take the opportunities in this turmoil to preserve what is Christian about the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, Joseph Ratzinger is just another man, as Grafton grudgingly agrees, a miserable leader, a hedgehog since early times, unable to clear his ambitions out of his conscience, unable to take the best opportunity in centuries to remold the Church for modern times and modern human beings.
Kueng believes that the Roman Catholic Church is in its "worst credibility crisis since the Reformation." Kueng does not mince words about Benedict XVI. He calls him an utter failure, and in a church-political move that is startling and fraught with very interesting opportunities for mischief, he calls on the bishops (the episcopate) to rise up and be heard against the self-serving hedgehog conservatism of the Curia (the bureaucracy of the Vatican) and including the College of Cardinals!
"Holy Mackerel!" I exclaimed. This is a call to "revolution" where "evolution" is apparently impossible. Kueng knows Ratzinger inside and out, he has worked with him over many decades and, now, he lets loose with a brief, a short list of theses, that rival the more theatrical ones of Martin Luther.
A week ago I thought that Benedict's call for curing the sins of the Church was a realization that the call to reform ignored meant revolution, now I think that inside the Church the heels are dug in and revolution it must be!
JB (and with many thanks to Tony)
5/22/10The Non-Celibate Clergy
There are many ways of looking at the on-going turmoil in the Roman Catholic Church. Coming from my expertise in Russian studies, which perforce included "Kremlin Watching" as a necessity, the way the Vatican behaves and responds to events is not all that different. We really did not have any spies in the Politburo, and we don't have any in the College of Cardinals. You have to make assumptions about what is made apparent, the most salient of which is that there are few, if any, accidents. What you see and hear has been vetted and discussed and tossed around the table by persons with differing views, strongly held, with various alliances and agendas, and—like any large corporate structure—aspirations for advancement. On top of all of that there are theological issues—metaphysics—which are rhetorical constructs with their own internal and not necessarily consistent logics.
So this week we hear that Austrian Cardinal Chrisoph Schoenborn has come out for a non-celibate clergy, or at least a relaxation of the rule devised at the Second Lateran Council nearly 900 years ago. The first thing you have to accept is that Austria and Germany are similar but not necessarily identical cultures with lots of communication between them, including the communication between Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, and Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn of Austria. Had the "wild" idea come from South America or Portugal or some other place not close culturally to Benedict, then you might easily decide that it was NOT a test balloon being sent up by the Vatican. Schoenborn, on the other hand, can be protected from hostiles better than any, if this idea flops.
As James Carroll (and I hitch-hiking on his analysis) have said, nothing could be better timed and more useful to the Church than the elimination of mandatory celibacy. It is the root cause of the sex crimes being perpetrated and then covered up by the existing clergy. It is no longer effective against the accumulation of property by clergy. It no long makes sense as a tool of power over an illiterate "black clergy" upon whom the Church was dependent for a thousand years. It does not square with the sheep-shepherd view taken of an overwhelmingly illiterate laity. It just does not make sense and it causes problems and provides sustenance to criminals within.
How the Church will read the response to Schoenborn is critical. It will be hotly debated and some will say that the lack of furor indicates assent, while others among the Cardinals will say it indicates ignorance. The fact is that there has been no furor reported so far. It is the sort of issue that must percolate downward to be understood at the highest levels. It will take time, but I am confident that the issue will be resolved correctly. The icing for this cake has been in production for a long, long time. Theological issues are not basic, but Church Rules are. They have to find a way to treat the impending change with intelligence. The paragraph above, the historical reasons for imposing celibacy (which were taken in extremis, by the way) are sufficient as answers to the question of Authority, which is, of course, the paramount issue to Benedict and his Cardinals.
5/16/10The Disease Calling Itself the Cure
There is an old joke that finds a few monks down in an archive pouring over ancient religious texts. The gloom and darkness are suddenly punctuated by the exclamation of a monk: "Holy heck!" he moans. "The word is "celebrate" not "celibate."
And well he has moaned since the Second Lateran Council of 1139 wherein it was decided that the cure for the problems of worldly inheritance among the Roman Catholic clergy would be to cut them off from progeny ... by celibacy.
What happened after that was a process of "natural selection" to the clergy—given the new rules—that slowly but surely selected for men in the clergy who could sustain a life of celibacy or a furtive pretense of it. But, moreover as, James Carroll writes in Sunday's Boston Globe, this intrusion into the human privacy of cleric divorced them, deliberately, from the laity among whom they moved and lived and sinned.
Carroll's essay is simply the best exposition of this subject I have ever read. He describes the nexus of power that the Council erected on this central focus of our humanity, our sexuality, our procreative freedom, our very existence. I believe with Carroll that the celibacy rule must and will be demolished and along with it nearly a millennium's worth of power politics emanating from the Church.
Things that happen take place in a context. The context of the Second Lateran Council was, broadly, feudalism. There were currents of modern finance and commerce building in Italy, but the essential fact was that of a strict hierarchy in civil life made plain by strict rules of property and subservience. Civil life was not nearly as separate from spiritual life. Medievalists will chafe at a three sentence definition of age, but the point is incontestable that we (western and eastern) are now quite different from what we were a thousand years ago.
The Roman Catholic Church needs to find the courage to address the issue. I believe that the changes between now and then include the salient feature upon which the Vatican can take its cue. That feature is literacy. No longer does a Pope have to deal with a majority clergy that cannot actually read, nor a laity, for that matter. With literacy comes freedom and the imposition of power over freedom brings revolution. It is up to Pope Benedict XVI, Joe Ratzinger of Nazi Germany, to find the courage and the way, for if he does not the Roman Catholic Church will collapse.
5/12/10The Pope's Conscience ... Or Not
Responding to written questions as he flew to Lisbon , Pope Benedict XVI made one of the most important concessions the Roman Catholic Church has ever made! He acknowledged that the trouble within the Church was of its own making and that the church has much to learn and accomplish. The report of this momentous pronouncement in the New York Times, this Wednesday follows weeks and months of journalistic leadership in pursuit of truth and honesty ... and Justice in the pederasty problem that seems to be endemic in the clergy of the Church. It is important to read this account because the account described in the next paragraphs is more than slightly different.
Before speculating on the difference, though, it important to understand that the Pope's statement is far more than most outsiders, like me, ever expected. Taking the positive assertions and declarations at face value we now see a Pontiff with a clear eye on the festering problem that has grown into a nightmare and threatens the very fundamental purpose of the Church and the creed upon which it relies and tries to promote.
Now, having said that, it is interesting, and perhaps closer to expectations that the Washington Post's report of the same Papal declaration includes the "aside" by the Pope that this criticism of the Church has been "the greatest persecution" ever endured by the Church. This remark is so at odds with the tenor and meaning of the contrition and administrative savvy meant to be expressed that is suggests a translation error. I certainly hope so, for if not, the Pope's use of a word that translates to "persecution" suggests, nay declares, that the criticism of the Church for aiding, abetting, and conspiring to cover up pederasty, child rape, and a host of other no less abhorrent crimes against Catholic children was mean spirited, vengeful, unChristian, and unwarranted. Sorry, Pope Benedict, you cannot have it both ways. You and your Church were guilty of crimes for which forgiveness is about the last thing that comes to mind.
Speaking with Catholics about this since this series of essays was begun, I have come to understand better the reverence Catholics have for the incredible burden administration of the Church is on the Vatican. The syncretism of the Church swallowed whole all manner of local customs and local scoundrels, some of which and whom have percolated to the top of the Church hierarchy. Benedict himself is a case of suspicious motivations. Nevertheless, giving them all Christian forgiveness over time, or, if you will, believing that some human beings can and do transcend early mistakes and become better people, the Church has within itself the ability to change and regenerate and it had to begin with Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI.
Let us hope that the word choice is not Papal politics designed to keep a few curmudgeonly Cardinals in their seats until they can be disciplined or ejected, but as I have suggested a translation error. If not, let us hope that the NYT catches up to this story and gives us reason to be skeptical all over again.
5/1/10The Papacy Must Change
In case you began to think that the shouting is over, it is not! The shouting has just barely begun. The turmoil in the Roman Catholic Church continues and the lines have been sketched in with 4th, 8th, and 13th century formalist, monolith supporters on one side and modernist, post Enlightenment, democracy-loving, transparency-seeking multitudes on the other side.
As you can intuit from this article in the New York Times the monolith supporters are looking backward for preceding Popes to cherish and from whom to model the current leadership on or contrast against. This is exactly what organizations like the Church do. They are hog-tied by their ecclesiastical dogmas and traditions into believing that Popes are "holier than thou" and somehow representatives of God to man. Modern thought on this is quite the reverse. Popes ought to be Man's representative to God.
It really does not matter, the Papacy is corrupt to the marrow. It has had over fifteen centuries to perfect its self-serving, self-replicating, self-sustaining, and ego-centric hierarchy. The result has been international wars, endless misery sustained by meaningless fairy tales and theological magic, and now that the Church has assembled a largest congregation of predatory pederasts, thousands of cases of child molestation and child rape.
The witch hunts will go on. Pius XII the Nazi sympathizer will be a major target by radicals, showing that Popes are fully capable of horrendous crimes. But, as the Times points out, Popes like John Paul are fully capable of errors of horrible omission.
The beat goes on and will go on until the Papacy is changed. It may take a long time, but the world has that time and is permanently aghast at this institution of corruption.
4/25/10Questioning the Pope
The New York Times has been in the forefront of the recent scrutiny of the Roman Catholic Church and its siege-mentality leadership. The Times has been accused of a witch-hunt and false accusations against the Pope. Public Editor Clark Hoyt disputes the response of the Vatican and the assortment of bishops around the globe who have come to the well-meant, but complete wrong-headed defense of the Vatican and Pope. Here is his column today in the Times.
Questioning the Pope
This is one of the biggest stories ever. How could you expect the Times (or any other reputable newspaper) to give the Pope a pass on this? The evidence of criminality and criminal conspiracy in the cover-up is completely obvious and equally unconscionable. If the Church wishes to co-exist within society, it must acknowledge that civil society is the final word in criminal matters.
You might be interested in one day's news on the Catholic front--reports of resignations from the Roman Catholic clergy.
It would be nice and a bit satisfying to believe that the College of Cardinals and the Pope had put out the word to criminals in the clergy that their time was up. We don't think that happened, however. It is far more likely that public pressure brought to bear in the wake of law suits and exposé accounts for this trickle of resignations.
The problem is that the upper reaches of the clergy remain untouched, as if the rest of the clergy were instructed to not rock their boat. We will not remain resigned to this. Benedict XVI himself is implicated. Lest the fable be promoted that Joseph Ratzinger had no worldly idea what was going on, let the clergy speak to this issue directly. They have said, and it is easily verified that Cardinal Ratzinger was a micro-manager of his territory in Germany, where vicious child rapes by the clergy were the order of the day for decades on end.
As in Ireland the Church endeavored to cover up the criminal acts and is all the more guilty for having done so.
One wonders what any of the molested children would have become without this criminal intrusion into the very private parts of their lives. The fact, which is not in dispute, is that the Roman Catholic Church deliberately let this kind of criminality continue to preserve the finances and name of the church. What on earth or in heaven were these vicious men thinking? Do they really believe they are due a forgiveness for repeated acts that cripple the soul and spirit of children and the adults they grow up to be?
4/21/10Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyo
You no doubt have read about the Cardinal in the Vatican who praised a French Bishop for refusing to rat out a priest to the civil authorities who had been molesting children. I use the term "rat out" to establish the valence of Hoyo's praise. It was "us against them" street sympathy, far from the code of honorable conduct that we expect from the governors of the world's largest and most monolithic church.
Well, Cardinal Hoyos appears in the news again today because many are scandalized that this particular criminal would be chosen to lead a mass. The article in the Washington Post includes a fine picture of the Cardinal. The first thing that I saw was the severe turn of the mouth, the dictatorial demeanor.
The second thing I saw was something that looks like a Rolex watch on the man's left wrist. I wonder what year it is set to? Perhaps 1430 ... when there were at least two Popes Benedict XIV and the French owned the Papacy!
Some of my friends have asked why I am so strident about the on-going scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a dishonest question with a very complex answer. On the public face of things the scandal is about the rape of children, the sundering of their innocence, the defiling of the story of the Christ, obliterating the truth of the story and encrusting a cynical version in the trappings of temporal power and unimaginable wealth. Everyone with an average IQ and a few years of secular schooling knows these things, so their response to me is dishonest because they are denying the manifest facts of the situation in the first word of their question. But they have a way out, it seems. They can always say that a man may not judge, lest he call down the wrath of God. What a cop out, and how well trained they are!
The answer is complex because of the lie, the self-deceit, the cowardice that motivates those who will not judge. It goes then to a central tenet of Christianity (and other religions) that solace for the troubles of individuals and of mankind generally must be sought not in this world, but in the "next." It says that judgement will be meted out by God, not by man. Yet is not this religion about society as much as it is about individuals? Is not society responsible to itself for the behavior of society generally and specifically of individuals? Of course it is! We as a polity judge others and after due deliberation execute some, incarcerate others, set free those whom we believe to be innocent, and so forth. We judge and I judge, and I believe it is not my prerogative, but my obligation to the society and my own spirit.
The Roman Catholic Church as Nicholas Kristof writes so well in the Sunday New York Times is a men's club, a medieval gynophobic bastion of medieval ideas, addicted to its own temporal structure and, seemingly, fully capable of perverse male parthenogenic replication ad infinitum and ad nauseam. Adventurous minds will note that the subjection of the female in Catholic lore is precisely the way the Church feeds itself from the body of women parthenogenically.
There have been nearly two millennia in which secular male dominance has been calcified within the Church to create this reef structure upon which individuals, including raped children, and whole societies have run aground and been destroyed. It is a formidable structure, self-possessed, and fully capable of forgetting the essential message of Christianity, which I hope you will remember was born outside of power and designed for those "out of power." The essential message is that within the human spirit ... that organic self-referential process ... there resides a beauty and goodness, grace, and compassion that should (ought) to be the baseline for all human behaviors.
Siddartha Gautama, the young prince who discovered "nirvana" (enlightenment) and thus became The Buddha, the enlightened one, understood this spiritual process 500 years before the carpenter's son of Nazareth explained it in his Judaic way to his small following. The Buddha explained that human suffering is natural and inevitable, but that the suffering is a state of the spirit, not of the world or universe, and that with patient understanding the familiar events of life that produce suffering in the spirit, like the death of family members, failure of crops, failure of the self to live up to one's own expectations, can be overcome by understanding that each of these events understood as negative were implicit in the situation to begin with. The glass that shines in the sunlight and contains the milk and honey ... is already broken! It is the nature of "things" that they contain what we apprehend as their opposite. This is the nature of the material universe.
But, Christianity teases the spirit with the idea that it is not the way things are in the next life. There, it is supposed, things are completely good and do not decay, devolve, descend, deteriorate, detach, disappoint. Buddhism on the other hand, says that the spirit learns to see that reality is both growth and decay and learns from both conditions until, in an enlightened state, it is truly understood, death particularly, without fear or sorrow, but with (OM!) satisfaction.
But, you say, this is far afield from the problem of pederasty in the Church. It is, I believe, central, because the Church is not (no longer) about understanding ourselves and our universe. The essential question posed in Buddhism is ignored. Christianity is about suppressing spiritual curiosity and understanding by dogmatic doctrine, deliberately treating the masses as unintelligent sheep, filling their minds with a confabulation of stories that can be interpreted by shamanic clergy any way they choose, and they have chosen self-replication of the edifice of the Church as the primary goal.
They should be ashamed of themselves! And, yes, this was implicit in the origins of the Christian Church ... but definitely not of Christ's message.
In the April 19th edition of The New Yorker magazine the lead off article by Hendrick Hertzberg is about the scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. If you are one of the many who have been fondled, bung-holed, brow-beaten, and terrorized by Catholic clergy whose problem, according to Hertzberg, is that they practice "sexual abuse," you will not want to read that article. SEXUAL ABUSE!! How about rape, Hertzberg! How about brow-beating terrorism of our male juveniles! How dare you try to patch it up with a neutered, clinical term like "sexual abuse!" As if ... dammit ... there was some kind of sexual activity between clergy and children that was not abusive!!
But, that's not where it begins with Mr. Hertzberg. He has the temerity to say that the current scandal is not in the same league with the "indulgences" that so sorely vexed Fr. Martin Luther five hundred years ago, a vexation that turned into a conflagration that sundered Roman Catholicism ... temporarily. Indeed, Hertzberg sees the sale of fairy tales as more important than rape of children??!!! I reread that article several times looking for a hint of sarcasm or of irony. Nada. Because rape is not a theological issue "but an administrative one," Hertzberg gives Benedict/Ratzinger a pass.
Well, the NYr has screwed up before and Hertzberg has been there and so has Remnick. This one, though, is so far from reality that one wonders exactly what the editorial position of the NYr might be. They are undoubtedly aware that Roman Catholicism is unworthy of the mantel of trust people put onto it, so they must be afraid of the outcome, the demolition of the "monolith" and all the verities that it once stood for (they assert).
Very disappointing position Mr. Hertzberg! Try again with some kind of compassion for the victims instead of angst for the criminals at the top, middle, and bottom of the Roman Catholic clergy!
4/14/10Morford Nails the Pope
It seems odd to many of us in Western Civilization that Islam does not have an entity corresponding to the Vatican and the Bishop of Rome, il Papa, the Pope. Yes, there are imams, ayatollahs, prophets, and once there was a caliphate, which joined secular and religious into one pot. The Vatican is without peer and, just maybe, this has led to the utter arrogance and criminality that now infests the College of Cardinals and the presiding Pope.
Mark Morford, known far and wide for his "organic" epistolary stylings, for his over-the-top-and-down-the-sides frothiness, has today written it better than well. He knows, as do we, that the Catholic Church has become rotten at its core and that centers made of decadent flesh cannot survive. These rotten men cannot say 1.1 billion "Ave Marias" and fool with their beads as penance. The Pope and his closest retinue must leave the Church. They must go to the darkest part of the Earth and live out their days in humiliation and, one hopes, in contrition as the rapists and liars that they have been so proven to be.
4/13/10Courageous Priest Calls for Pope to Resign
The story goes on. The Roman Catholic Church is in turmoil, with the congregation fully understanding the concept of the "good of the Church" and, above and beyond that, the truth and the need to be faithful to the truth.
Here is a brief story of one priest who has told his parish what is in his heart and conscience. It is that a Pope who cannot face the truth of his own culpability has no business being Pope.
4/10/10For the Good of the Church
The Vatican has become slightly less strident in its denials and equivocations about rampant sexual abuse (68,000 cases in one recent year!) of children across the length and breadth of the Church. Bellicosity was a very bad ploy, of course, and ordered, we must assume, by Herr Reverend Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI himself. It was (and it is) the Pope's strong suit, however. He is first, last, and always for the Living Universal Church and seemingly oblivious to the damage it does in the world.
Power corrupts and absolute—infallible—power corrupts absolutely and without fail.
So, on this Saturday we find that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger deliberately dawdled for two years on a case in Oakland, California, refusing to acknowledge the crime against children, but rationalizing that the priest who sullied the spirit of a young boy was "very young" (33) and the "good of the Church" had to be considered.
Interestingly, the "good of the Church" was considered in the aftermath of a somewhat larger than usual exodus of parish priests from the clergy, an alarming trend, of course, but attributed wrongly to the liberalization of the the Church in the Second Vatican Council. Cardinal Ratzinger was, as ever, more worried about the stoney edifice than the human occupants. His decision speaks volumes about modern Vatican Catholic ethics.
I keep harping on the issue of the Church pretending that its clergy are above the law or somehow immune from it. What on earth or heaven or hell does a priest's age have to do with his crimes against minor children? Ratzinger seems to believe that youth in the clergy is sufficiently valuable that its affronts to decency and The Laws of nations are negligible, certainly something that needs be kept quiet for the good of the Church.
If the Roman Catholic Church were a public university, Ratzinger would be gone. We have sufficient evidence of his conspiracy to hide a damaging crime from the civil authorities to convict him as an accessory after the fact. Benedict XVI should resign his office NOW ... for the good of the Church!
4/7/10Betrayal for Money and Power
The pressure is on, and it will remain on until Rome relents and reverses itself. The path forward from here cannot be more of the same. The congregation of the Roman Catholic Church are not lambs anymore, their priests may no longer bugger the weak and defenseless. The old regime must and will collapse. It is up to the venal and the corrupt to see their way clear to thorough-going reform. If they miss this opportunity, they will inherit the furies and the Church will crumble, for once again "the center will not hold."
Maureen Dowd, like James Carrol a Catholic, and like James also a thinking person, but unlike him a woman with a list of human and religious grievances that the chauvinist clergy cannot understand, and will not try to understand, has brought her brother into the fray, and the Papacy had better listen. The patience of the congregation is at an end.
The Church’s Judas Moment
4/5/10Catholicism At The Turning Point
There has never been in our lifetimes such a situation in any human institution. The Roman Catholic Church commanding perhaps a billion souls around the world has reached the end-point of its present-day view of the role of the Church. Inheriting the upheavals of industrialization and nationalism, the breakneck changes to society along with governments and cultures, the Church has gone far astray from its theological moorings, and as James Carroll carefully describes, has become a transnational business, an ugly "Enron of the conscience," certainly no better than that.
We are witnessing history now. The old order must fall. It will, but as ever the way it falls will determine how and whether the new Church will develop. I doubt Pope Ratzinger or his coterie of avarice and power see it this way, but the laity does.
Rescue Catholicism from Vatican
4/4/10The Devil At Work? Depends on Your Point of View
Maureen Dowd, in the New York Times this Easter Sunday, has another in the series courageously written and published by that newspaper. That the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has been despicably corrupt in the past is no secret, that this particular group of avaricious old men is exempt is ridiculous. The idea of Satan, quaint and yet still full of fiercesome imagery, taking over the lives of priests to undo the Church, is one of those ideas that backfires immediately. Why would such a Satan stop with mere parish priests? Why not grab hold of bishops and monseignors and cardinals and popes?
Devil of a Scandal
3/29/10What We Really Know: Harris and Carrol
You should listen carefully to this short interview with Professor Sam Harris. When he says that religion provides "answers" that we cannot possibly know, he has hit the mark directly and perfectly. People who seek answers through religion cannot tolerate "not knowing," so the fix feels good, even if it is totally without foundation.
Here is a statement from the "other side," a known Christian, raised and continuing as a Catholic, but wise enough to have understood the basic message of Christian doctrine ... not Church doctrine, by the way ... and to have understood exactly what Sam Harris said, but also failed to say. James Carrol on "Holy Week."
N.B. -- My apologies for the scant postings here recently. My colleague at another blog is in the hospital and I have been tending that website for her. That and other pressing matters have kept me from this keyboard.
3/14/10Lessons for Religious Institutions
In this article from the Saturday New York Times we learn that the current head of the Roman Catholic Church is a micro-manager, "the" chief ideologue of the Church, and yet somehow oblivious to the pedophilia taking place in the parishes of the German branch of his church, oblivious now and oblivious when it was happening under his more local nose.
We also learn that Pope Benedict XVI believes in a process he calls the "re-christianization" of Europe (and the civilizations Europeans have spawned across the face of the globe). Sitting here on the outside of his religion one wonders what exactly his point might be. Could this Ratzinger brother really believe that human beings prefer a pastoral dictator whose own moral authority is increasingly negligible?
The fact is that Roman Catholicism has but one thing to offer to the laity and that is metaphysical momentum, the notion that so many adherents could not possibly be wrong in their hearts, even if in their minds they daily choose to ignore the human truth of their establishment, that this huge and rich edifice of sanctamony and fantasy is corrupt beyond the redemption that it claims to provide for the mere giving up of one's spiritual nature to the bonds of (yes, "bonds of") an absurdist theology. The essential metaphor of Christianity is that life is to be endured with calm and grace because, if done correctly, (that is, by the lights of corrupt and venal and predatory pastors), solace during life will be dispensed and eventually learned on the promise of a metaphysical menagery concocted by beings at the dawn of human civilization. Is one supposed to believe that the Christian syncretism is authoritative in the light of its sordid history? Isn't there a better way of dealing with the loss of a parent, child, job, or anything else that might befall us in life?
In truth, and whether anyone (atheist or religious zealot) likes it or not, religion is a shadow of the common (perhaps average) human imagination. It provides insight into the nature of human cognition and personality. Religions, the temporal manifestations of these thoughts, are organizations like businesses and they trade in Authority ... you know, the way medical doctors used to trade in authority because acceptance of medical authority brought to bear the (possible remaining) internal restorative processes. Religions have a strong and necessary function in society. For some people they are the place to park their individual anxieties in exchange for hope that the next day will be brighter. For some people, whose childhood animism is not well extinguished, religion provides answers to causation questions that are beyond their own reckoning. Religions are necessary at this stage of our biological and cognitive development. They are even necessary for people like me who do not practice religious doctrines or believe in the theological constructs and metaphysics. But, religions do not have free reign to abuse us, and clearly the contemporary Roman Catholic Church is in no position to "re-Christianize" any part of our civilization. Moreover, the history of this Church is such a sordid mess of arrogance and depravity that one wonders whether it can bootstrap itself free of its history. Certainly it will take a leader much less bent on orthodoxy than Ratzinger!
In Sunday's Times the saga continues with the Vatican asserting that there is a campaign against the Pope. Yeah, well, what would you expect of a huge corporation like the Roman Catholic Church? Would you expect contrition? Would you expect an overwhelming solicitousness for the abused? Not a chance! This is arrogance at its very finest ... and true to the overarching necessity to maintain brute force authority, rather than moral authority.
2/24/10The "God Gap"
One might assume from the title of its article on the conclusions drawn by the Chicago brainiacs who think the U.S. foreign policy is tone-deaf to religions around the world that the Post thinks this is funny ... or absurd ... or something to drown with sarcasm as fast as possible. If so, I (for once) agree with the editors of that paper that our secular-but-respectful "hands off" policy regarding other nations' religions is not only reasonable and proper, it is absolutely necessary. The folks in Chicago (and elsewhere) have their heads buried in the sand and forget that Presidents visit the Vatican, attend religious rituals across the face of the planet, entertain Dalai Lamas knowing that the incident will rile China, etc., etc.
What the "God gap" people want is for the U.S. to take a religious position, of course, and that is, if not impossible, highly dangerous, because what position are they going to suggest the diplomats take? Southern Baptist? Orthodox Jewish? Buddhist? Episcopalian (which group ... the tolerant or the gay-bashers)? There is no end of trouble in this, and the Post is absolutely correct in equating our respectful posture to the fabricated missile gap of 50 years ago.
There is a point to be made beyond the obvious unAmerican-ness of a foreign policy predicated on sectarian metaphysics, however. The point that the zealots want to make is that America is a Judeo-Christian society and culture. The point that should be made is that the American culture is distinctly pluralist and that we respect (in theory and practice ... most of us) the religious rights of everyone. You see, then, that pluralism becomes and intolerable act of faithlessness to the zealots, who will have the whole cake, frosting, and candles or no one will have it.
I frankly trust the U.S. State Department to continue its low level and respectful acknowledgement of other's religious ideas, but I do not trust any part of the federal government to keep the zealots out. The U.S. Air Force (and parts of the U.S. Navy) have been captured by zealous Christian fundamentalists in the past. It is clearly wrong for anyone to use a federal government agency to promote its own religious doctrines ... but it happened and continues. This movement "towards closing the God gap" has to be thwarted, because it is a trojan horse.
1/6/10An Interview with the Devil
Every once in a while Mark Morford, who (btw) is clinging to his job at the San Francisco Chronicle by a thread as paper media flash into dust everywhere, ... every once in a while Mark puts a spin on things that is truly brilliant. This is one of them, one of the best. If you are not a smorgasbord devotee of your religion, i.e., if you are hunkered down in the "literal truth," then you might not like this, but you should probably read it anyway.
James Carroll, who writes a column in the Boston Globe each Monday morning, writes of the winter solstice, which occurs on this special day.
James tries with all his intellect and might to resolve the Enlightenment, to mend the rift between our evolution and our inheritance. He ends with the notion that "knowledge is holy," but is it really? Knowledge is what we agree upon as fact. It peels back the mysteries of life and the universe, their history, their songs and literature, the atomic structure, the quantum behavior. But knowledge is provisional, growing, replacing. It is in this way profane.
What is holy then is our leap across the boundaries of individuality to a self-conscious realization of the force animating the quest for knowledge, the realization that we are not alone in our curiosity, that life is not only dependent upon that light that wanes to its angular and orbital minimum this day, but is a new light in and of itself, a concept—the human spirit!
7/1/09Indistinguishable from Magic
Sometimes events conspire to reveal an essential truth. If you are a Liberal or Progressive, your world view is dynamic and unlikely to be anchored to just one point of reference, one point of view, one set of cherished beliefs. If you are a conservative of most any stripe you are more likely to be anchored, as it were, tethered, and in fact bound to a set of axioms about life and how to live it. Not all Liberals and Progressives are eager thinkers, and not all conservatives are mired in outdated dogmas, but even those of either camp who can chew gum and walk, tend to flinch one way or the other about the idea of modern life being better. Liberals instinctively lean into a new idea or point of view; conservatives lean away, more or less shielding themselves ... and their long held belief systems ... from the hard radiation of change.
I had a subscription to Popular Science at age ten or twelve. Back in the 'fifties this was a magazine dedicated to modern life and particularly technology. The editors had no idea how completely technology would change American and ultimately everyone's lives, but they were optimistic. The transistor is a good example, an invention which when first devised was a thing about the size of a Chiclet. It quickly replaced vacuum tubes in a variety of applications, radios and telephones particularly. Now the size of one transistor is almost a laughing matter. They are hardly visible they are so small, with hundreds and thousands fitting in the space that the first ones occupied, produced en masse and so inexpensively that they are deliberately disposable. Transistors were at the beginnings of one of the current accelerations of the magic of progress that has divided our culture and the cultures of half the countries of the world. Transistors represent a form of invisible electronics about which few people have a minds eye understanding. In this sense the technology in a modern home is for all practical purposes indistinguishable from magic. This is not a new thought, but I wish to put it into a slightly different, perhaps new, perspective.
The mind's eye seeks a lens through which to observe the world and its people. The lens of "progress" has its blind spots and distortions, to be sure, but the lens of tradition, although it appears to be clear, undistorted, and reassuring is that way only because the experience is always very much the same. The curious thing is that Liberals will inevitably settle for a while on ideas and points of view, just like conservatives, but they are restless and do not reify them and take them to be final. Conservatives, having conducted periodic inventories of what they like and what frightens them or makes them uncomfortable, have trouble projecting an idea of themselves into new situations. Yes, they are often comfortable in complex situations, but the more uncertain outcomes become the more stressed become the conservatives. If they cannot see themselves living in New York City for more than a couple of days, they simply write off New York City and reify Middletown, which is much less complicated and much less likely to present them with difficult choices and contingencies. The conservative jet fighter pilot masters his machine, but has no time to understand his town and its people, so he establishes "dogmatic" benchmarks that reassure him that his ideas are "reasonable."
So, the countries of the world are amalgams of people who are futurists or traditionalists to one degree or another. Iran, for instance, is a country where the gulf between "liberals" and "conservatives" is wider than in the Netherlands, for one example, and the traditions of the conservative groups in Iran are respected through a process of religious kinship. In fact, the kinship is something of contrivance, a public illusion, growing out of the necessities of a waxing and waning material progress. Put more straightforwardly, cultures like the Iranian one are deeply riven, with robust "progressive" values supported and enunciated by a vigorous and dynamic minority, while traditional values are given credible lip-service to avoid civil unrest. The actions of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the current circumstances is understandable, given that as a cleric his world view is essentially based on traditional values, that his understanding of modern technology and the life it creates is minimal ... (but envious). Democratic voting is an anomalous activity to clerics. One does not vote on Allah's creation or ideas. The idea of democracy has a long way to go in Iran.
In fact democratic voting is and always has been a problem in western cultures as well. In the U.S. the question of whether we have a democracy is answered by conservatives with the retort: "we have a republic, not a democracy." Liberals and Progressives quickly answer "democracy," even though they know that our form of government is a representative rather than a direct or "pure" democracy. They answer "democracy" without the trepidation that Ayatollahs and American conservatives have, because they easily understand the essential principle that belief systems are directly and inherently related to the material bases of culture. A sharecropper may vote for a policy to provide irrigation in fallow lands. As soon as his material condition changes because of that irrigation, the sharecropper's view of the world changes. It evolves. The conservatives want this to happen slowly, if at all; the "progressives" are there already, chafing at the present, leaning into the next future.
There was a book reviewed in the Sunday New York Times this past weekend entitled "No Smiting", Paul Bloom's feisty review article on Robert Wright's new book, The Evolution of God. "No Smiting" draws out the essential point that the Abrahamic religions' deities have evolved right along with the cultures that gave rise to them. Yahweh smote, Jesus (whether trinitarian or not) does not smite, in the course of 1200 years the followers of the Prophet Muhammed have evolved from bloody scimitars to ... what more genteel form? This is the essential question for Islam. The middle class citizens of Teheran and hundreds of other modern Muslim cities across the planet have evolved to a more abstract and less tribal view of civilization and their religion has evolved accordingly. But even if they understood it perfectly, most Muslim clerics do not have the courage to express themselves in the same vernacular. The very same thing obtains for the current and many past Popes of the Roman Catholic Church. In the U.S. and elsewhere, religious conservatism aligns with political conservatism in search of the answer about what will become of us in a culture of Change. The answer already evolved by the urban progressives and liberals ... a more abstract view of God and importantly, of the evolution of culture and world views correspondingly. In other words, a more tolerant and optimistic view of the course of history.
Sigmund Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents and Frank J. Sulloway's "Born To Rebel" are clear markers along the path to understanding the contest between modernity and tradition. From these two accounts it becomes obvious that these contrasting impulses are part of the human condition. They are not political planks or perspectives. They are not religious tenets or dogmas. They are, nevertheless, present and kicking within the expression of religion and politics. The kicking is the working out on small scales the evolving of a culture.
There is no guarantee that evolution can proceed without periods of revolution. The American Revolution was the culmination of a very long process begun in the Renaissance and given strong vocabulary in the Enlightenment. The continuation of the American Revolution, the strong discord and divisiveness we see today, has many backed up against their principles ... both sides ... with tantrums flying and demagogues making little fortunes stoking the prejudices and fears of the minority. In Iran, though, the minority is the progressive side, invidiously more successful, but self-aware of the discrepancy. The evolution in both countries must be accomplished from within, yet there is a commonality that should not be overlooked. Progress will come when the conservatives no longer fear the emergent future and its unfamiliar things! Does this not suggest that progressives and liberals in both countries need to learn how to persuasively communicate fearlessness and confidence in the future!