Thursday, October 28, 2010

Certainty, absolutes and faith

I know that, as House Speaker Tip O'Neill used to say, "All politics is local;" however, it is time for us to revisit the slogan.
The whole world is now "local" given the economic and environmental issues facing all citizens, countries, governments and agencies. And yet, the pettiness and the smugness and the "parochial" or provincial attitudes continue to dominate our discourse. And nothing seems to be accomplished on the really important and globally local issues.
Clean air and clean water and enough food and a place to live and adequate health care...these are all necessities of life, if we consider seriously the capacity of the world to both envision and to deliver such a menu everywhere.
However, I received a phone call last evening asking if I knew the candidate's position was on a merely local issue. I discussed with others another call made in a political campaign in which the candidate's position, nuanced and sensitive, on abortion, was a reason for some to move away from supporting that candidate.
Where have I been living? I thought that both capital punishment and a woman's right to make a choice including access throughout this country to therapeutic abortions, were both established law.
Now, with the conviction and incarceration of Russell Williams, at least one Canadian columnist is blowing the trumpet for a return of the death penalty for Williams and, presumably for others of his ilk. No one likes, respects or has any legitimate justification for the actions, attitudes and mind-set of people like Russell Williams. However, on a very basic level, killing him will remove the opportunity to "pick his brain" in both the metaphoric and the literal senses, in order to better comprehend and to better prevent a repeat of his dastardly acts of horror. The argument about deterrence continues to both attract and confound those whose speciality is statistics and therefore is difficult to either support or refute from a numbers perspective.
On the abortion front, there certainly was a dust-up over the Ignatieff attempt to paint Harper's government with hypocrisy in their apparent removal of abortion funding for third world women from the foreign aid budget. And there is no legitimate reason for anyone to deny women here or in the undeveloped world access to therapeutic abortions, while at the same time, not wanting abortions to serve as a cheap out for promiscuity. Seeking to reduce the numbers of abortions can be a legitimate goal of both sides in this debate. However, the "right-to-life" cause, established and sustained by the Roman Catholic church, is simply impractical and unethical, given the relative importance of the institution's claim on a person's decision making freedom and the absolute necessity of the individual to make a decision, with her medical team and hopefully at least some part of her family, that best adresses all of the issues presented by any pregnancy.
The church's position has been propagated for centuries, as one of those "God-given" and "Pope decreed" absolutes, which, by their very nature, beg the question of the ethics of absolutes. The New Testament itself is replete with moments of clarity and illumination that point our eyes and our hearts and our minds to the situation in which the individual finds him or herself. And, to think that the mind of God can be reduced, through human "insight, intuition, knowledge and certainty" to a simple maxim, applied to every individual everywhere and always, is to both play god and to make a mockery of the very powerful deity we seek both to find and to worship.
Similarly, a considerable amount of both ink and air time in our political and religious discourse have been dedicated to the proposition that gays and lesbians are somehow outside the orbit of being created in "God's image" in another attempt by the religious right to express their absolute certainty, their conviction and their superiority in that conviction, that they know the mind, attitude, perspective and directives of God in a very unchallengable way. Neither they nor "all the king's horses and all the king's men" can put this mythology back into the can of absolute truth, just as they are unable to do on the death penalty and the abortion  issues.
In fact, it is the certainty that some claim about their knowledge and insight into the mind and heart of God that is the most frightening aspect of any religious expression, both inside and outside the sanctuary.
And, for this scribe, the Jews have the most sustainable approach...never to be uttered too often.
They start from the position that they do not and can not know the mind of God. And while they diligently pursue the questions and the possible answers to that inquiry with a dedication that would serve all people of faith well, their debates constitute their best attempts to open their eyes, their minds their hearts and their spirits to the light, love hope and spirit of God...even though both the premise and the pursuit are messy in the extreme.
After all, what kind of God would be worthy of our worship and our adoration who (which,that) would have us wrap up our lives in fossilized tenets and bow to those human expressions of the mind, heart and vision of God?
There is a lot of work for us to do, as humans, in our pursuit of justice, compassion and equality for all, everywhere, and we might start at home with our individual and family discussions of what it is that we can say we know, with certainty, with conviction and without fear of contradiction by a temporal, human institution, no matter how divinely "inspired."
One of the tenets of all faiths is, or at least ought to be, "Question authority" and that includes the authority of those who "lead" those faiths.
Certainty closes options, eyes and inquiry. Uncertainty, doubt and continual openness to new insights underpins and sustains new life...and what God worth examining would not wish for his/her disciples to consistently seek and sustain new life.
"The glory of God is man fully alive" is a phrase we inherit from the Benedictines. And the kind of closed certainty that we hear in much of our political and theological debate would not seek to promote that aim.

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