Is moving in the wrong direction still progress?

I was reading an article in a political journal recently that asked a significant question for the United States. The question was, “Is politics moving in the wrong direction?” The question reminded me of an old Yogi Berra quotation. “We’re lost, but we’re making good time”.

If we are indeed lost in the present political milieu, are we as a people still making progress just because we are making good time as the result of social media, 24-hour news cycles and constant and repetitive updates on television and radio, which tell us nothing, but pretend that everything is urgent.

Our presidential race is viewed as a horse race and the story has become the race and not the issues. What is more; the major party presumptive nominees for president have the lowest positive perception of any candidates in recent memory even within their own parties.

Speaking of perception, polls taken by a number of groups such as the Pew Research Council indicate that people believe we are more divided along racial than at any time since 1966, especially after the events of the last few days in Minnesota, Louisiana and Texas. And here is where we find ourselves at the intersection of faith and the public square.

Is it a concern for people of faith that we are perceived to be a nation divided and headed in the wrong direction in terms of our relationships with each other? It is for a number of reasons, but chief among those reasons is that we are all connected. The Dalai Lama has said this over and over again.

When we do not recognize this or deny it, we abrogate the Creator’s intent. And, when it comes to “intelligent design”, it is our design to be connected. Our design has little to do with evolution, but everything to do with our nature as the children of the Transcendent One. Here is religion’s milieu,  our place within the family of God. When we start to talk about relationships among people of disparate ethnic and racial groups, that is where faithful people can begin.

In terms of our partisan political atmosphere, we can ask a question before engaging in any discussion, which is, “How does this further our connections as children of the Transcendent One?”

Whatever name we call G_d, our connections will direct our politics and our relationships with each other, whether we are Republicans or Democrats or independents.

But, what do you think?

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What kind of relationship?

I noticed an invitation to an annual convention of scholars in Washington, D.C. in September of this year. The subject if the convention, whish is the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, is “The Relationship Between Religion and Science”. It sounds like an interesting topic for discussion and debate. But, I have a question.

What sort of relationship is there or can there be between religion and science? These are very different areas of human endeavor. One is epistemological while the other is considered to be  intuitive or instinctual.

Is the relationship one of tolerance? Is it based on peaceful co-existence or is the relationship more like that of two people in a strained marriage in which there exists only a tenuous and tense co-existence?

Our present society seems to be enamored of technology, but that is only one small corner of scientific exploration. Science itself is more of an approach to the exploration of the world and the universe that surrounds us. Science requires that we approach any exploration and experimentation with an open mind.

Religion tends to be doctrinally predisposed to already established beliefs about the relationship between the Deity and the natural world. G_d is sui generis, the one that creates. Science can not assume anything; religion does.

How can the two co-exist? Or, can they?

It would seem that a religious person could not approach the universe epistemologically. However, there are mathematicians and physicists that are religious. Some of them that I know are very religious. Do they somehow divorce their faith from their scientific research? Do they suspend their disbelief or skepticism when they worship within their various faith groups?

As a religious person, I believe that we cannot separate our faith from the other aspects of  our lives. I also believe that all learning comes from G_d. What we discover in the lab is not necessarily antithetical to the Deity.

For the religious person, this requires that there is an understanding that the various Scriptures, whether it is the Tanakh, the Bible, the Koran, the Zohar, the Bahgivad Ghita or any of the other foundational religious writings are not intended to be scientific treatises. Religions tell us the “who” of the natural world, not the “how” of its workings.

With that in mind, religion and science can not only co-exist, but live together harmoniously.

But, what do you think?

 

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Fear

As most people have no doubt heard, a 29 year-old man in Orlando, Florida shot and killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. For a day and a half people have been offering their opinions about the murders, the worst shooting in our history. Was the man insane? Was he filled with hatred for people different than himself? Was he a terrorist dedicated to fomenting terror against his own country? I do not know. It could be a trifecta of reasons, (reasons in his mind). But, there is a thread that runs through these acts of terror and hate crimes that have come to light in the past few years.

The common thread is fear, fear of the “other”, whether it is someone with loyalties or sexual orientations or ethnicities other than themselves or whether it is resentment of the “other”, the common element is fear. This fear results in the use of “overkill” force. We have seen how these fearful individuals have used weapons usually associated with military applications, or they carry multiple weapons. We saw that in Colorado when two resentful boys killed their classmates. And, no one can deny that the murders in Orlando were cowardly acts.

Someone might say that we need to teach tolerance in order to allay the fears of those who might act out of fear to do unspeakable violence. I disagree. In the best case, tolerance is a condescending action; it still connotes thinking that the “other” is a lesser person to be tolerated.

It has t start early in life with exposure to people and situations that are unfamiliar, but filled with promise. What I mean is this; as adults, we can expose the young to a wealth of variety. All of us have gifts and as a society we are greater when we delve deeply into what moves and defines others within and without that society. We are enriched and our fears can never have the chance to grow.

But, it requires all of us to intentionally explore things of which we might be afraid. Fear can melt away when we truly know each other. It is easy to stay limited in the scope of our experiences.  The cost, however,  is too high.

For now, we can certainly pray for an offer succor for those who mourn, but our future consists in this; that we work to grow a fearless society in which the “other” is celebrated and not tolerated.

Grace an peace.

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Keeping more things in perspective

In the United States, the presidential primaries are drawing to a close. It appears as if both major political parties are close to identifying their standard bearers.

Many people are chagrined by the canddates that have seemingly locked up their respective parties’ nominations.

People from other nations have expressed ironic surprise at the resuts of our primary polling. It made mme think of a quotation from a site that sends Latin words of the day to its subscribers.

“Furciferibus designates, nostra ratio civilis est subabsurda”. In English, it means simply, “With the scoundrels having been nominated, our political system is rather absurd”.

While an argument could be made that this Latin quotation fits very well into our present political season, it is also significant that many alignments of the past are ended.

So-called “evangelical Christians” have been left out in th ecold while one party still gives lip-service to their influence. “Tea-party” Republicans seem to have no influence even while their candidate, while a billionaire, has attracted a populist following albeit that of resentful and angry voters.

The populist candidate with real credentials is behind in delegates even as his candidacy inspires younger voters to become involved in the process.

What, the, do people of faith do in the face of lack luster choices from both major paryies? Do we embrace the Quixotic candidacy that seems to fit our ethical standards? Perhaps that is the only effort worth making, for it is only in the face of what seems to be impossible odds do we expose the most worthwhile endeavors.

It has been said that the only causes worth fighting for are the hopeless ones. That is never more apparent than during our messier and noisier exercises in democracy.

Here is where the intersection of faith and politics is highlighted. Do we act to follow a seemingly hopeless cause, becuase it is right for us orr do we act “pragmatically” even though we will be disappointed?

When Abraham and Sarah were promised that they would found many nations and their offspring would be as numberless as the sands by the sea and th stars of the sky, it also seemed hopeless.

When Jesus of Nazareth died on a Roman cross, His story seemed to be over, His cause ended, but look what happened.

Follow what seems right and let me know what you think.

Happy Israel independence day!

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Can Two Kingdoms On Earth Ever Be Compatable

For Christians this week between Palm Sunday and Easter, known as “Holy Week”,  is the commemoration of the clash between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of heaven, or between Caesar and the Lord.

The moment in time about 1983 years ago occurred in Jerusalem, which was then under Roman occupation. It was the pilgrim festival of Passover when people from all over the diaspora returned to Jerusalem to worship at the holy temple and remember their freedom form slavery in Egypt.

This was always a tense time. The procurator, Pontius Pilate, traveled from Caesarea to Jerusalem and took up residence in Herod the Great’s old fortress palace on the temple mount. He brought his fierce Syrian mercenaries with him in case a riot broke out among the agitators such as the Zealots an Sicarii.

Into this mix rode a poor rabbi who had a following. People who had been for too long enslaved by a repressive regime cried out, proclaiming this peaceful teacher as the new king from the house of David.

The kingdom of the world could not abide such a threat to their coercive power. They rejected the power of loving kindness and the Roman Empire put this gentle man to death.

The coercive powers of this world have always been threatened by the real power of love. It seems out of place and those who preach it are considered unrealistic or at best too idealistic wit7h their heads in the clouds.

But it behooves the powers of this world to remember that Rome fell. It lasted for a long time, but it fell. The gentle rabbi? The religion that worships Him is the largest in the world. Kingdoms of this world rise and fall, but it appears as if the kingdom defined by loving-kindness, (hesed in Hebrew), has staying power.

Something to think about in this less than savory election year. But, what do you think?

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Transforming American thinking or the philosophy of what works

Allen Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce, III professor of the Civil War era at Gettysburg college. He recently wrote about American philosophy in the January 2016 issue of the journal, “First Things”.

Guelzo wrote that Charles Sanders Pierce, in 1878,  laid out what William James called, “pragmatism”. At center this ideation is what as James wrote, “Beliefs, in short, are really rules for action”.

The cynics among us might agree with James in saying, “An idea isn’t good. because it’s true It is good, because the consequences of believing it make life better”.  That is very utilitarian, but it is not particularly transcendent.

Is American philosophy merely a way of determining what works best under certain circumstances? In a way, this is a secular philosophy tat would seem to fit our studiously secular society. It has no standards based on Commandments or religious determination.

On the other hand, pragmatism or utilitarianism has an ambiguous set of comparables or paradigms by which  decisions about what works can be made. Even utility requires a way to judge whether a things operates or not.

The alternative, basing decision making one religion or another’s standards excludes all other standards, religious or otherwise. But, even pragmatism is more than seeking what works After all, as I asked; how do you know what works?

The philosopher Josiah Royce addressed this by seeking something more than what is limited by one’s immediate experience. In a way that is transcendence of a sort.

We Americans like to think of ourselves as level-headed, practical people. Yet, many of us seek transcendence in a variety of forms. Perhaps, therefore, there really is no one particularly American philosophy of what works.

There has to be more than a philosophy of “what works for me” if we are to exist together as Americans.

Can we explore what that may be? Join me in the coming year, 2016. Until then, (tomorrow), good luck and have a safe New Years celebration.

 

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Possibilities or limitations

Ajahn Brahm wrote:

“The possibilities for the future are infinite. When we focus on the unfortunate possibilities, that’s called fear. When we remember the other possibilities, which are usually more likely, that’s called freedom from fear.”

People are blinded by fear. Brahm recounted a story about a speech he was to give in Singapore. At the time there was an epidemic rampant in that country. The authorities wanted to cancel the event in order to avoid the illness. Bram calmly calculated the odds against contracting the illness, which were about four million to one, he said that with those odds, it would be foolish to cancel.

At each lecture, more and more people arrived and there were no cases reported through an entire week of lectures.

We do not think when we panic. We do not calculate when we let fear rob us of reason. In Ajahn Brahm’s reasoning fear is foolish as well as out of place in human endeavor.

Brahm is a Buddhist, yet his reasoned argument has application beyond religion.

Let’s look at the politics of fear in the United States. As a clergyman I have to be non-partisan and I am, (publicly). But the issue is how we participate as an electorate. Political candidates pander to our baser instincts and our fears tell us that we are threatened as a nation by immigrants and the unfamiliar, by things we cannot control. Yet, reason tells us that the odds are against fear.

Our faiths tell us the same thing.

Of the readings in sacred texts of a variety of religions, we can read the words, “Do not be afraid”, more times than I can count.

If we are consistent as faithful people, we will not et fears decide our future, s individuals or as a people.

What do you think?

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