Saturday, May 21, 2016

Linking spirituality to public policy....a wide chasm!

 Margaret Atwood referred to the dialogue between Quebec and Canada at the height of the sovereignist movement in Quebec as the "dialogue of the deaf". It would seem that, in today's extremely complex world, (or at least a world in which there is an apparent colliding vortex of many ideas, personalities, technologies, ideologies and religions) her metaphor, while widened, still holds.
There are apparently many factions screaming past the ears of other equally vociferous factions, all of them vying for the same king of public attention.
Anti-abortionists (pro-lifers) want access to abortion eliminated from the public arena. (In Oklahoma, this week the legislature sent a bill to the Governor's desk for signing that would effective make it a felony for any doctor to perform an abortion in that state. She refused to sign, calling the bill 'vague'.)
On the other side, of this debate, the pro-choice advocates seek full access to therapeutic abortions, with the decision being fully in the hand of the woman in consultation with her doctor. Neither side listens to, fully comprehends, or seeks accommodation with the other.
On the issue of immigration, the extreme positions continue to seek and to find followers; those encouraging the welcoming of refugees and immigrants from lands especially fraught with war, famine, drought and disease want the wealthier states to open their doors to these people, arguing it the 'right thing to do' and that such public policy will only enhance the culture and the economic prospects of the welcoming state.
Equally as intense are the arguments coming from the anti-immigration lobby, whose proponents argue that immigrants bring added cost to an already strained public purse, added pressure on small communities to accept new people, added pressure on the health care system given the potential for untreated diseases, and importantly, the potential of hidden terrorists among the immigrant arrivals.
Similarly, with respect to how to "eradicate" terrorism, much of it still under an Islamist heading in most minds, public opinion is deeply divided. Some, like the current Republican presumptive candidate for president would bomb the "hell" out of those guys, as if there are not such actions already underway following directions of the current president. Others, including a few imams, are beginning to forge a funded public policy of addressing the question of how youth become radicalized, what social conditions are most fertile for incubating radical terrorists, what public policies, in addition to the surveillance approach of heavy screening at airports, cameras on many street corners in some large cities, and limiting access to weapons, might prevent radicalization.
The current public debate over whether Great Britain exits the European Union has evoked strong and nearly black-and-white arguments for and against.
It is as if the ethos of the court-room is becoming the climate for the exchange of ideas, with the public hopefully serving as jury and judge, at least when it comes time to enter the ballot box. Prosecuting public policy, whether it might involve suspected breaches of public trust (the Canadian Senate, the President of Brazil, the accounting firm of KPMG and off-shore tax havens for their clients, the dumping of previously secret public documents by whistle blowers like Snowden) to name only a few) or the contamination of foods or drugs that enter the mouths of millions of innocent consumers, or the purchase of  war machines, or the pollution of the eco-system especially by private corporations for their private profit....these are normally considered separately, in their discreet and statistically measured impact(s) on the public, in order to be both communicated about, and studied and contained for the policy wonks, the politicians, the news reporters and eventually the ordinary voter. For example, the Paris conference on Climate Change and Global Warming expressed some desire (not policy, nor directives, nor sanctions if not followed) to limit the rise in temperatures resulting from these monsters to 2 degrees Celsius, given that current projections point to a rise of at least 3.5-4 degrees, considered unsustainable.
It is the collision of empirical evidence (the stats, the comparisons, the predictions and the projections (of the academic kind, not the psychological kind) with the human dimension, including the values, the ethics, the cultural and religious norms, the unmeasureable imagination and spirit of human beings that interests us here.
Working with, and sustaining all of the arguments for and against each public policy, on each issue in every country, human beings, with all of our strengths, vulnerabilities, hopes, dreams and especially our fears that play a leading role in the development of each of these dramas. And, in a time when phrases like "mindfulness" or "raising consciousness" or "spirituality" are bandied about with both glee and abandon by those in the "creative neighbourhoods" of our many cultures, the question of how our better angels have, can and will increasingly impact our collective decisions as a race rises, like the daffodils in Wordsworth's poem, to call attention to the rising spring of our human potential.
The churches for their part have become almost muted in the public discourse, except when the Pope calls corporate profiteers "blood suckers" on the weak and the poor, as he did last week. Alone, however, he can and will have minimal impact. His is, like John the Baptist's, a voice crying in the wilderness. To a considerable degree, this space, too is dedicated to similar cries, without being attached to any specific faith community.
There are welcome individuals and institutions dedicated to the 'big picture' like Bill and Melinda Gates, and other philanthropists, foundations dedicated to remediating many of the worlds open and festering human sores and diseases. And even governments in wealthy countries are contributing some of their public tax money to the alleviation of social and health blights in poor countries. However, given the impact of public policy over the last half century on the growing divide between those with wealth and those struggling to survive, it is apparent that the powerful continue to seek to support and enhance the wealth of their peers, donors, and confidants.
And all of the bleeting and bleeding heart "liberal" voices only stiffen their determination to grab all the perks and all the benefits of a public policy structure available and purchased by their unwanted and unneeded cash.
And, yet, from a universal, human and compassionate, even an ethical perspective, we all know, (even the corporate bandits) that such short-sighted, self-serving, narcissistic public policy is both unsustainable and eventually sabotaging the very survival of the planet. We all know that, without a radical change in the way public policy is determined, without a radical shift in the public consciousness around issues like climate change, global warming, and even attempting to manage the already "spits-demanding" chasm between the rich and the poor in the wealthy countries, we face a dangerous future, and our grandchildren face an even more threatening life than we can, or are willing to, postulate.
The human capacity to see beyond the immediate, the dividends from today's stock options, the potential rise of stock X or Y, the immediate "deal" to borrow from the prophetic/pathetic clown who purports to rule the world, the immediate rise or fall in the unemployment or inflation numbers, requires a persistent and legitimately prophetic voice, not only to articulate the dangers (both in numbers and in poetry) but also to paint pictures of potential landscapes that sustain life, hope and the dreams of those humans who will be born and expect to live in the 22nd century, not to mention the centuries further out.
Underpinning such hope, in this space, is an ultimate being, reality, God, whose infinite love and hope and tolerance and forgiveness surpasses our capacity to imagine such "care" and the relationship of the mere mortals who inhabit this little sphere in space to that God is at the core of our potential for change. Whether to accept such a being, and whether to give obedience and attention to that entity, the incarnation of everything that is good, honourable, loving, hopeful and tolerant....not the embodiment of everything that computes with our rational brain, or our personal needs and interests, or our personal ambitions for our material success, or our picture of a Ferrari in every driveway, or our distorted vision of a single religion, or our restricted definition of how and why God wants us to behave and to our free choice.
And, clearly, from the evidence that pours over our consciousness every day, we are individual and collectively making some fairly obviously bad choices. And we have the power within each of us, to make different choices.
It is not a matter to be settled on the streets of Baghdad, nor the streets of Paris, nor the stumps of the presidential election, nor in the shootings of black men or white police, nor in the cubicles of the Canada Revenue Agency, nor in the state rooms of hotels in Vienna. These matters of survival and human shared choices are too big for those venues, and cannot be contained in any mosque, synagogue, or cathedral, nor in any university seminar room nor in any court room, even in those countries with the most advanced legal system.
These are matter that have to be resolved in the human heart, and that means in the human heart of each and every human breathing. And whether or not we will choose our own best angels' advice, and surmount those multiple and growing obstacles to our collaborative energies, both as a service to our grandchildren and their children, and also as an obeisance and gratitude to God for our own opportunity to have enjoyed the beneficence of this life, the spring flowers, the spring rains, the cloud poems, and the birdsongs, the baby's first smile, and the dying's last good-bye.
It is a commitment and a pursuit of what gives us life that unites all faith communities, that inspires all artists, that energizes all writers and poets, and that can and must infuse the hearts and minds of all those whose shoulders bear the weight of all of our hopes and dreams, and not their own ambitious career curves.
This is not rocket science, but it will take more than the energy to lift many rockets off the platform, if we are to change the current trajectory of human expectations.

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