Friday, February 12, 2021

Reflections on soul/conscience/truth/conviction in this moment

Martin Buber, a prolific Jewish writer, thinker and believer once wrote:

If you want to raise a man from mud and filth, do not think it is enough to stay on top and reach a helping hand down to him. You must go all the way down yourself, down into the mud and filth. Then take hold of him with strong hands and pull him and out into the light….

And Buber also wrote these words:

Question: We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. How can I do this if my neighbor has wronged me?

Answer: You must understand these words rightly. Love you neighbor as something which you yourself are. For all souls are one. Each is a spark from then original soul, and this soul is inherent in all the members of your body. It may come to pass that your hand will make a mistake and strike you. But would you then take a stick and chastise your hand because it lacked understanding, and so increase your pain? It is the same if your neighbor, who is of one soul with your, wrongs you because of his lack of understanding. If you punish him, you only hurt yourself.

Question: But if I see a man who is wicked before God, how can I love him?

Answer: Don’t you know that the primordial soul came out of the essence of God, and that every human soul is a part of God? And will you have no mercy on man, when you see that one of his holy sparks has been lost in a maze and is almost stifled?

Dr. Anil Kuman Sinha* wrote these words about soul:

A soul is Divine energy, a little piece of God within you. Your inner identity, your raison d’etre. The soul is the self, the I that inhabits the body and acts through it. Without the soul, the body is like a light bulb without electricity, a computer without the software, a space suit with no astronaut inside. With the introduction of the soul, the body acquires life, sight and hearing, thought and speech, intelligence and emotions, will and desire, personality and identity.

*Dr. Sinha, former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation in India, holds a post-graduate degree in psychology and an MPhil in strategic studies, and is an alumnus of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He also attended the National Defence College, India (Wikipedia)

Both Matthew and Mark’s gospels carry similar words about losing one’s soul:

Matthew 16:26: For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Mark 8: 36: For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

James Joyce, Irish writer: Each lost soul will be a hell unto itself, the boundless fire raging in it’s very vitals.

Minnie Maddern Fiske on actors: The Actor who lets the dust accumulate on his Ibsen, his Shakespeare, and his Bible, but pores greedily over every little column of theatrical news, is a lost soul.

Charles M Shulz: The rain washed away my pitcher’s mound. I’m a lost soul. I’m like a politician out of office, or a sailor without an ocrea or a  boy without a girl.

C.S.Lewis: The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words; ‘Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.’# There is always something they insist on keeping, even at the price of misery.

# Benjamin Ramm, in BBC, April 19, 2017 writes in a piece entitled: Why you should re-read Paradise Lost, writes: “By contrast (with Milton’s God), Satan has a dark charisma (‘he pleased the ear’) and a revolutionary demand for self-determination. His speech is peppered with the language of democratic governance (‘free choice’, ‘full consent,’ ‘the popular vote)—and he famously declares, ‘Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven’. Satan rejects God’s ‘splendid vassalage’, seeking to live: ‘Free, and to none accountable, preferring Hard liberty before the easy yoke of servile Pomp…Famously, William Blake, who contested the very idea of the Fall, remarked that ‘The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet of the Devil’s party without knowing it.’

Why all of these quotes about losing one’s soul? Why is the North American continent faced with the dilemma, pouring over our television screens, depicting the litany of evidence that, to any normal jury, would spell ‘conviction’ and ‘barred from holding public office forever’ and yet, watches the speculation that enough Republican Senators will likely vote to acquit? Charged with inciting an insurrection against the Capitol, the ex-president has such a ‘hold’ over the mostly men in the Republican caucus in the Senate, as well as over a considerable number of Republican Congressmen and women, that the talking heads are left, as are the rest of us, scratching our own heads, seized with the picture that only something as mysterious and sinister as a tragically evil man, and certainly not the inherent evil of all of the Republicans who will vote to acquit, is responsible for the actions leading up to, including and subsequent to January 6th, 2021.

There is a truth to the notion that humans try to explain unfathomable mysteries with myths, images, poems, archetypes, gods, goddesses, and evil monsters. It is as if, living in a universe in which the absolutely inexplicable takes shape and form, not only in horror films, or in terrorist acts, or in the dark and dank allies of broken towns and cities, and on the fence posts of Nebraska farm fields, (Matthew Sheppard) or, spewing from the larynx of an ex-president for many more than four years, somehow transfixes us. We become like that frozen, paralyzed and terrorized deer, caught in the headlights on a sub-arctic February freeway after midnight. And, on the edge of what we perceive as a potentially existentially dangerous cliff, if not personally then certainly as a voice for what we have come to know as democracy (dependent on the trust of voters, their tabulators, and the reporting and recording of those votes), we are bereft of understanding. Nothing in our cognition, or in our shared view of how the world works, can begin to integrate and to assimilate this horrendous tragedy into our tolerable world view. Murder, mayhem, stabbings, shootings, attempted lynchings, well over a hundred serious injuries to protective officers of both the city of Washington and the Capitol itself, not to mention the sheer vandalism of the mob, allegedly incited by a single man (with compliant and sycophantic acolytes, think Cruz, Graham, Hawley) are not compatible with a view of the world for the moderately educated, moderately informed, and even moderately moral and ethical vision of individual human beings. And yet, it was human beings who acted! And it was a human being who incited their actions! And it was human beings who had, for more than four years, not merely tolerated the ranting lies of the ex-president, but hubristically rode his coat-tails into power, and into mostly large trust accounts floated by thousands if not millions of sycophantic donors.

A tweet from Senator Lindsey Graham: “I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House Managers offensive and absurd” (9:48 pm, Feb. 10, 2021) was answered both brilliantly and succinctly by former CIA Director John Brennan in his own tweet: These are the words of a man with no conscience, not integrity, & not interest in doing the right thing. Lindsey Graham & other Senators who hold this view are unworthy of public trust. History will judge them as it should-political cowards who betrayed their oath of office. (From Bess Levin, Lindsey Graham: “Democrats Should Be Ashamed of Themselves for So Thoroughly Incriminating Trump,” Vanity Fair, February 11, 2021, 2:58 PM)

On the national and the world stage, the world is witnessing and participating in what amounts to a Greek Tragedy of epic proportions. The Collins dictionary (collinsdictionary.com) defines Greek Tragedy this way: a play in which the protagonist, usually a person of importance and outstanding personal qualities, falls to disaster through the combination of a personal failing and circumstances with which he or she cannot deal. Depending on one’s perspective, the only ingredient missing in the American drama is a “person of outstanding personal qualities”. And it is this missing element that makes the tragedy even more contemptuous: there can and will be not pathos, the emotion of pity and fear evoked in the international audience, for the fall of the ‘great man’. Just as divorce provides no “funeral” equivalent, (although some have actually written and conducted liturgical poetry and prose to substitute) thereby leaving many feeling empty, hollow and exhausted without a formal closure, this political drama will inevitably leave millions feeling empty, hollow and exhausted, and more importantly potentially experiencing a deep erosion of their trust in the very processes, personnel and protections that are enshrined in the constitution.

Often described as a “frail” entitity, democracy does in fact require the constant vigilance of an engaged, informed and articulate electorate. And while at least the first of those three attributes exist in the American political culture, the last two are clearly incomplete. Information that is framed to portray one ideology as superior and “correct” and another ideology (and its purveyors) as inferior, incorrect and untrustworthy, fulfils the Orwell criterion that all literature is political. The current political culture also gives inordinate evidence to the notion that the truth has been shredded, and the residue continues, like the pandemic, to infiltrate the coffee shops, the pubs, the news rooms, and the television studios. True facts, versus alternative facts…that dichotomy lies at the heart of this impeachment trial. Those who may agree with the “facts” of the case, that the ex-president did indeed incite an insurrection at the capitol on January 6th, and yet continue to argue against its constitutionality, and then drag in irrelevancies like Democrat Senator Leahy’s assuming the Chair (he is after all President Pro tempore of the Senate and Chief Justice Roberts has declined to preside), and then vote to acquit, thereby aborting the vote on disbarment from office, will find their names in the history books, and potentially in the electoral refuse bins, after votes have been counted.

It is, however, their individual capacity to ‘sleep nights’ and to ‘look their constituents straight in the eye’ and to ‘tell their kids and grandkids their shame’ at their failure to convict that will inevitably haunt them to their graves. And, in a nation bound both by laws and what proud Christians would sing is a profoundly Christian nation, one is left wondering if the ethical and moral principles of any faith community would embrace the hollowness, the emptiness and the sheer hubris and narcissism of their abandonment of principle, oath, and conscience.

Ghandi, the renowned Indian non-violent mystic once commented, “A ‘NO’ uttered from deepest conviction is better than a ‘YES’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble. Men and women of deep conviction are not only in great demand today; there is a glaring deficit of their numbers, especially among Republican Senators about to make the decision of their political lives. Their ‘yes’ to acquit is so blatantly, irreverently and irrationally, and blindly in service of a motive to please, or to avoid trouble however each of them might define that trouble. It is a short-term, personalizing of the issue, in the face of a national and potentially an international tragedy.

The long-term trustworthiness of the United States’ word, and the people selected to represent that ‘word’ can and will only be shaken, if not eroded, by a Senate decision to acquit. It is not only the evidence that clearly convicts; the hearts and the minds, and hopefully the souls of the individual Senators, even if they are in harmony with conviction, and then vote to acquit, demonstrate that the ‘show’ is more important than the substance.

Like the bishop who aborted a mission of pursuing the spiritual growth of every parishioner, selling out to the corporate vision of a 10% increase in people and a 15% increase in revenue, as his view of the Christian mission of the diocese, their souls will illustrate their inherent hollowness. And their consciences will also continue to atrophy as they add this mis-step to their legacy.

And it is not only the specific vote to acquit, and the implications for democracy, and for international world order that is at stake. Think, just for a moment about the reverberations among those too young to cast a vote today. They will be taught that the Senate of their nation was unwilling, and unable to vote to convict when even among other Republicans like former Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, 'If inciting to insurrection isn't an impeachable offense, 'then I don't really know what is.'  (Josephine Harvey, HuffPost, January 10, 2021, Chris Christie: If Inciting Insurrection Isn't Impeachable, 'I don't know What Is')

Neither does the rest of the world!

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