Powered By Blogger

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Is the Christian church in need of transformation, rebirth and 'resurrection'?

Are Samuel Alito and Steve Bannon singing from the same hymnody?

No doubt, neither man wants to see his name in a sentence with the other. However, based on a sceptical connection between speeches delivered by both men, one back in 2014 and the other just last week, it seems reasonable to ask about the relationship of the two speeches, and their shared implications for the United States polity.

Reading from The Guardian, December 7, 2016, we find these words:

During a 2014 conference hosted by the very conservative Human dignity Institute at the Vatican, Bannon laid out his belief in ‘traditionalism’. To him, it signifies, among other things, a third-way attempt to counter the ‘crony capitalism’ of neoliberalism, and the ‘state sponsored capitalism’ of the Soviet Union and China….He argues that a form of ‘enlightened capitalism’ defined western political economies from the second war until roughly the downfall of the Soviet Union. This type of capitalism was predicated on the Judeo-Christian tradition, which, for reasons Bannon does not explain, was adequately able to represent the culture and economic interests of the working class. However, increasing secularization in the west eroded the Judeo-Christian tradition. This set the stage by the 1990’s for enlightened capitalism to be supplanted by a new form of political economy, namely neoliberalism. The defining feature of neoliberalism, as Bannon describes it, involves the establishment of an international class of political and corporate elites- the ‘Davos Party’- who presumably lack the values necessary to represent the economic and cultural interest of anyone else besides themselves….A return to Judeo-Christian traditionalism will allow for the necessary economic forms that will pave the return to enlightened capitalism, which in turn will ‘wipe out’ the racist elements of the right-wing partiers. It will also provide the necessary virtues, Bannon argues, to resist the global threat of ‘radical Islam’. …He aims to destroy the political establishment and infuse the re-established state with Judeo-Christian traditionalism…..(H)e references none other than Julius Evola, one of the intellectual godfathers of European fascism who promoted a spiritual type of racism-whose reception in Russia under Putin has inspired a traditionalist movement from which Bannon believes there is much to learn. The most bothersome feature of Bannon’s talk is the fact that a Catholic group at the Vatican responded to it with enthusiasm…

 

And while the thrust of his argument, in this piece, is economic, the thrust of Alito’s recent address, also in Rome, is about morality.

slate.com, July 29, 2022,  reports in a piece entitled, Alito’s Speech Mocking Foreign Leaders Has a Deeper, Darker Message” by Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern.

Last Thursday, Justice Samuel Alito gave a talk in Rome sponsored by the University of Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Initiative. Alito mocked western leaders like Boris Johnson, Emanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau and Prince Harry, for their criticisms of his majority opinion in the Supreme Court Decision on Roe, effectively gutting that constitutional right of women to choose an abortion established for nearly a half-century.

Hayes Brown, writing in msnbc.com, July 30, 2022, writes:

“Alito’s actual lamentations were saved for the decline in religiosity in the United States and Europe. ‘This has a very important impact on religious liberty because it’s very hard to convince people that religious liberty is worth defending if they don’t think religion is a good thing that deserves protection, he said.’…(Salon’s Amanda Marcotte is quoted in the Brown piece:

The cultural clashes that Alito referees as a Supreme Court justice have often pitted conservative Christians, particularly evangelicals, against those in favor of expanded rights for everyone regardless of sex, sexuality, gender and race….The more both Republicans and the Christian establishment reject these basic rights, the more they can expect to be rejected themselves, especially by younger people, Marcotte writes. And Brown continues: Moreover, the recourse that Alito all too often favors appears to be less a protection of religious freedom than an imposition of one religion as the baseline of morality and public policy.

Both speakers had a highly respected Roman Catholic audience; both received favourable receptions; and both, while coming at the cultural/political file from different directions, are nevertheless, evoking the Roman Catholic church as the embodiment of and the enforcer of public morality, and traditional Judeo-Christian values, for different reasons. Their shared goal, however, is the enlisting of the Roman Catholic church in the preservation of “traditions” that are not and cannot be ascribed exclusively to the Roman Catholic church.

Indeed, many who previously held Judeo-Christian values as ‘foundational’ and the sine qua non of western civilization, especially in North America, have moved away from their previous support and respect.

Alito’s speech converges, in time, with the visit of Pope Francis to Canada on what the Vatican calls a ‘pilgrimage of penance’ to apologize for and to ask forgiveness for the genocide on indigenous children in residential schools, operated under the aegis of both the Government of Canada and the Roman Catholic church, as well as two other mainline protestant churches. While issuing his apology in several sites, the Pope never once uttered the words that would have conveyed something all indigenous people were expecting: that the church itself (and not isolated individuals within the church) was indeed responsible for these abuses. Further indigenous people expected, and continue to demand, the revocation of the Doctrine of Discovery.

What is the Doctrine of Discovery?

Writing in cbc.ca, July 30, 2022 Mark Gollom, writes:

The doctrine, dating back to the 15th century includes a series of edicts known as papal bulls, that were later used to justify colonizing Indigenous lands….(Gollom continues) …But Steve Newcomb, an Indigenous scholar who has spent much of his career studying the Doctrine of Discovery, says he believes the Pope’s potential hesitation to rescind the doctrine comes from his reluctance to remind the world of the type of language used by his predecessors. ‘They issued languages of that sort that has had a destructive devastating impact for centuries on all of our nations and peoples, Newcomb said. ‘Because what it does is it rips the veneer off the Vatican to reveal the true nature of the institution,’ he said. Newcomb also suggested subsequent edicts released by the church following the papal bulls of 1493 (ostensibly abrogating the doctrine) had little impact, and that the original doctrine of discovery served for decades as the basis of ‘the most horrific genocidal acts against the original nation. He (Newcomb) said, despite its statement to the UN on 2010, the Vatican continues to try to evade responsibility for the doctrine. ‘They have never publicly acknowledged what’s in those documents. They simply want to refer to the titles of the documents, but not the substance. ….

If we use the lens of the current Papal visit, the refusal to state publicly that the ‘church’ as an institution, is responsible, accountable and thereby a candidate for the penitential, as an institution, along with the Doctrine of Discovery, and its history, as a lens through which to begin to examine the addresses of both Bannon and Alito…it seems eminently reasonable to “see” and to both contemplate and reflect upon a ‘red flag’ of growing hints of a theocracy in the United States. And that theocracy, regardless of the premises on which it is postulated, as nevertheless an exclusive, historically powerful and impactful, considerably arbitrary, hierarchical, and unidirectional institutional ‘influencer’…

Before this piece is relegated to the trash, as an Anti-Roman-Catholic screed, let’s take a deep breath. All institutions, in decline, reach for what can be depicted as extreme measures, positions that will seem to those being threatened, to restore a kind of lost lustre, lost gild on the historically and religiously once revered lily. In the midst of a pilgrimage of penance, while articulating that individuals within the church, (along with government officials, and governments as well) are responsible and accountable, it is also reasonable to observe that the Pope may need to draw a boundary line between those individuals and the ecclesial institution, in order to protect the larger reputation, honour, and even the sanctity of the church.

That proposition, however, to borrow a cliché from the vernacular, has already sailed. And the proposition is applicable, not only to the Roman Catholic church, but also to other protestant churches, (Anglican and United, for starters), for many theological and operational aspect of their birth and existence. The Garden of Eden story, for example, interpreted by many mainline churches, begins a process of human depravity, in desperate need of recovery and forgiveness. The notion of sin, as a starting place, almost like a cultural DNA for many, is not merely inhibiting but downright disparaging, denigrating and demeaning. While writers, like Tolstoy and others, have asserted the divine spark within each human, the institutional church has been locked into a punitive, judgemental and alienating/ostracizing theology not becoming a deity worthy of the name and worship.

The tension, too, between the manner in which and by which God speaks to humans, as a cornerstone of the dynamic relationship between man and God, is another of the militating features of taught, practiced and incarnated theology. Whether the God-message is intended to individuals or to the church and society as an entity, is a perhaps micro-irritant, yet nevertheless, serves as a launch-pad for the individualism that dominates North American capitalism. Another feature of most, if not all mainline churches, is the determination to prosletyze, to convert those considered heathens to the religion, whether that religion is considered a surrogate for civilization, or for moral purity and perfectionism, or for social and political endorsement, or for highly entertaining liturgies with even ‘prosperity gospel’ sermons. Paul may have had some legitimacy in sending out disciplines two by two, to bring people into the fold of the new church; yet, that too is highly suspect, given the measures, tactics, strategies and propaganda (truth-twisting) that has seeped into those ‘selling practices’ over the centuries.

If the people who are ostensibly “leaders” in the North American polity, on both sides of the 49th parallel, are interested in seeding a new, hopeful, life-sustaining and life-giving theology that embraces what we already know about various faiths, they, working with the faith leaders, begin conversations toward a spirituality and a belief system that is free from the dogmatic abuse of power, in the name of God, and also free from the notion that humans are primarily evil, sinful and ‘going to Hell, unless they are saved.

Clearly, even by the most minimal expectation of the notion of redemption and forgiveness, the Roman Catholic church’s current iteration, as well as the expectations suggested, if not actually imposed on the institution by both Bannon and Alito, suggest that coming clean of institutional responsibility, accountability and transparency, as well as the concomitant forgiveness and re-integration into the family of humanity, not to mention the reconciling process with Indigenous peoples has barely even begun.

And, even a massive reparations payment to First Nations people in Canada, if indeed it ever transpires, will not, just as the tokens of other symbols (such as the withdrawal of the Doctrine of Discovery) if offered, suffice as an adequate transformation of both the church and the theology of sin it embodies and enforces.

Whether through the colonization of the indigenous people or the domination of millions of minds and hearts and spirits, or through the deliberate and cunning definition of boundaries of ‘guilt’ and judgement, the church(es) have more than their share of confessing and engaging in the act of penance, not only from an individual perspective, but also from an institutional perspective.

Or, has the time for such a transformation passed?

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Shedding masculine stereotypes...slowly...but not at the top?

 Well over twenty years ago, scholars were writing about the ‘strait-jacket’ in which boys were being judged against outmoded ideas of masculinity and what it takes/means for a boy to become a man.

In his book, Real Boys, William Pollack writes ‘by placing a boy in this gender strait-jacket, society is limiting his emotional range and his ability to think and behave as freely and openly as he could, to succeed in the ever-changing world in which we live….Boys are pushed to separate from the mother prematurely. …As early as age five or six, many boys are pushed out of the family and expected to be independent—in school, in camp, at all kinds of activities and situations they may or may not be ready to handle. We give our boys in early adolescence a second shove—into new schools, sports competitions jobs, dating travel and more. The problem is not that we introduce our boys to the real world—that’s what parents should be doing—it’s how we do it. We expect them to step outside the family too abruptly, with too little preparation for what lies in store, too little emotional support, not enough opportunity to express the feelings, and often with no option of going back or changing course. We don’t tolerate any stalling or listen to any whining. That’s because we believe that disconnection is important, even essential, for a boy to ‘make the break’ and become a man….I believe that boys, feeling ashamed of their vulnerability, mask their emotions and ultimately their true selves. This unnecessary disconnection—from family and then from self—causes many boys to feel alone, helpless and fearful. And yet society’s prevailing myths about boys do not leave room for such emotions, and so the boy feels he is not measuring up. He has no way to talk about his perceived failure; he feels ashamed , but he can’t talk about his shame, either. Over time, his sensitivity is submerged almost without thinking, until he loses touch with himself. As so a boy has been ‘hardened’, just as society thinks he should be…..While we may joke about how adult males won’t ask for directions when they’re lost, it is not laughing matter that so many of our boys feel they cant reach out for the emotional compass they so desperately need. (William Pollack, Real Boys, Henry Holt, New York, 1998 pp.xxiv-xxvi)

Two matters need to be addressed at the outset:

First, there is no justification for the reader response that reads and sounds like ‘here we go again having a boy-pity-party’ from those who adhere to the very modality Pollack is describing. The truths he is telling are like social and cultural DNA for many, if not all, of the many men in leadership positions in corporations, academia, education, the church and especially in government. (More about that later.)

Second, world events, mostly manipulated by men who have been cut off from their inner lives, their emotions and their vulnerabilities, and then ‘masked’ them with bravado and braggadocio using whatever means and methods available for that task, one they consider absolutely essential to their individual survival, however that might be defined and envisioned.

There are legions of writers/therapists/coaches who write and speak about how the dynamic of ‘being damaged in our youth very often ricochets into actions and attitudes that hurt both self and others later’. Indeed, in some schools, both literal and in those of thought, the prevailing approach is based on a credo that young children need a surfeit of cheer-leading in order not to develop as damaged adults, inflicting pain on their peers as well as on themselves. (Naturally, opponents of such ‘touch-feely’ approaches, too often fall into the ‘tough-love’ category, as if an ‘either-or’ solution is either adequate or even professional or ethical. Simplifying the question of how to ‘raise’ a young boy in order to survive and to thrive in the real world, into a single mantra (hard or soft), is about as ethical and effective as telling an adult to take a daily dose of children’s aspirin to avoid any chance of a cardiac arrest. So, before we begin, let’s agree that silver bullets, and reductionisms, both in assessing the nature of masculinity and in moving forward with ideas and approaches that might begin to address some of the inherent individual, familial and societal issues facing masculinity and ‘it’s’ relationship with the world.

Many writers and scholars have noted the imprisonment of stereotypes of gender roles and expectations that constrict both men and women into cardboard cut-outs of their complexities. For example, in a January 22, 2021 piece in Forbes, entitled, “The Future of Masculinity: Overcoming Stereotypes,” Shelley Zalis writes:

One study found that men who cried at work were perceived as less competent than women who cried. More than one-third of boys think society expects them to be strong and tough, ‘be a man,’ and ‘suck it up,’ according to a survey by Plan International USA…Research finds that while half of fathers think men should take paternity leave, only 36% actually take all their permitted leave….’It’s time to talk about the kinds of men we want our sons to become,’ says Gary Barker, President and CEO of Promundo*. ‘For our daughters, we have promised a new world. We’re still about 200 years off from full equality at the current rate of change according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report, but were making some progress….The truth is that some gender stereotypes can hold both men and women back from being the best that they can be—and impact our  mental health. For example, new guidelines by the American Psychological Association say that men socialized to conform to the ideals of ‘traditional masculinity,’ such as not wanting to appear weak, are more likely to suffer issues such as cardiovascular disease, engage in heavy drinking and even commit suicide.”

And while there is mounting evidence that both education and socialization of men as part of a global initiative to reduce violence in all of its nefarious forms, and more research into health masculinities being conducted at both psychological and sociological levels, world-wide, there continues to be also a growing body of evidence and opinion that many men are even more divided about how to be a ‘real man’. Women, too, have conflicting notions and aspirations about what constitutes ‘authentic masculinity’ and many help, whether consciously or not, to uphold the traditional masculine stereotype of “alpha male”.

One of the glaring gaps, however, in how the culture approaches issues of gender stereotypes and gender equality, however, is to consider such issues, and the studies applicable and relevant to the business community where office politics plays a prominent role in how things happen there, and in the family where the traditional family of parents and children continues to thrive, is that gender issues are not generally discussed or even considered a force in the political discussions including the geopolitical discussions about how to address global issues. And just as  such discussions and opinion pieces need not revert back to the Freudian “sex drive” in a reductionistic dismissal, nor do they need to be considered the most dominant factor in any political debate, nevertheless, the question of how power is envisioned, defined, executed and projected definitely applies.

And men and women, it seems by definition, have different modalities, conceptions, depictions and applications of how to deploy power effectively. Also men and women have different skill sets, attributes and blind-spots in their conception and deployment of power and influence. Neither gender has either a monopoly or a stranglehold on the exercise of power, nor can either gender really aspire to full effectiveness without the strengths and the weakness of both genders being considered, integrated and then deployed.

Words like collaboration, conciliation, compromise and androgyny, however, have somehow slid off the radar of the political establishment, even with political parties, and certainly between political opponents. And yet, amid such epic crises all of them threatening as existential, it is long past time for both evolved and imaginative and courageous and creative men and women to demonstrate a deeper and more nuanced and more complex appreciation of the strengths and the weaknesses of both genders from a perspective of magnanimity, appreciation, tolerance and support. The war of the genders, regardless of whom the initiators and the combatants might be, is another of the many sabotages we are inflicting on ourselves and on the planet.

It is not only in the office politics arena, nor on the dating scene, nor in the academic research lab, nor in the competition for employment in institutions like the church, the military, the health care system, and certainly the media, and in the public discourse that men must support other men, to a degree and with a conviction previously missing (MIA), just as women are increasingly vocal in their support of other women whose character and accomplishments warrant such support. And, in the light of the divide between the ‘straight’ and the ‘gay’ classifications, and the potential for mutual respect and honour, (not mere silent tolerance) is it not time for many of those traditional masculine ‘alpha models’ to fade into the oblivion we need them to wander.

And yet, on the world stage, especially in geopolitics and media coverage, men like those clinging desperately to the far right, whether in America, Canada, Russia, Brazil, North Korea, Hungary…can no longer be allowed to hide behind a faux political ideology or agenda that attempts to mask their ‘desperation’ at losing the traditional stereotypes and thereby potentially their identity.

Putin’s strutting, and then insulting western leaders who would look like losers with their shirts off, is only considered peripheral to the war in Ukraine, another almost irrelevant example of the heinous brutality of the wannabe czar. And yet, is it only a peripheral aspect of this war?

And is the MAGA movement merely a post-modern-deconstructionist movement to eliminate “woke” liberals and their ideology from power for the next century? Is there any difference, for example, between bannon strutting into the court and putin strutting on the world stage, or trump strutting in both vocabulary and body language, as evidence of the typical and traditional and stereotypical mask that adorns the young male adult in the college athletic locker room whose vulnerabilities and insecurities are hidden deeply behind a muscular Adonis-like body and a determination to ‘kill’ his opponent in battle?

 

The strutting, the bravado, the compulsive and desperate narcissism of too many weak and frightened men, all of them with far too much power, having arrived in those positions sometimes by inheritance and too often by the complicity and the insouciance and the indifference, and the projections of other weak men and women who see their fantasies being realized in and through these hollow men. Upon reading T.S,. Eliot’s The Hollow Men, my picture of those men (and women) was of the vacuous and tendentious and specious and meaningless chatter and gossip we commonly dub “small talk”…without ever have transferred my picture onto the international political stage of geopolitics.

Of course, that view was naïve, immature, inadequate and dangerous. And in the recent decade, I have had to revise both my vision and the proportion of ineffectual men who have positions of power and authority more as a consequence of their emptiness and the complicity of others who prefer ‘no drama and no ruffled feathers’ to the prospect of transformation brought about by authentic leaders who can and do consider the big picture and the finer details necessary to take the journey to a better place.

Parents, teachers, supervisors, and male and female colleagues have an opportunity to walk beside men who are determined to break out of the stereotype of chained masculinity and to foster, nurture and applaud those break-out’s whenever they witness them.

And they are happening everywhere….but fast enough? Time alone will tell!

 

*Promundo: a Brazilian-based non-governmental organization with offices is Brasilia, Brazil, that work in collaboration to promote caring, non-violent and equitable masculinities and gender relations in Brazil and internationally. Equimundo: Center for Masculinities and Social Justice (formerly Promundo US)

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Memo to Mr. Harrison #2

 Two days ago, I asked the Chair of the Democratic National Committee to lead an full-court press against the terror/tyranny that is both implicit and explicit in the bannon/trump et al attempted coup. Democrats are in a highly paradoxical position, having enlightened policies and an approach to government that respects civil order and institutions as well as the players on that states, while at the same time being hamstrung internally and externally both by their own “wokeness” and the culture’s seduction to their own addiction to the politics of personal destruction and demonization freely translated as “weaponization”.

Just as NATO is caught between their shared (at least partially) commitment to defend Ukraine in the face of the Russian state terrorism, and yet refrains from treating Ukraine as a full-fledged member of their organization, fearing the spark that ignites a third world war, with obvious nuclear deployments, so too the Democrats are in a similar bind, between their ambition and campaign to hold on to the seats in both the House and Senate, (or even to increase those numbers) and the risks of adopting an open-warfare approach to attacking the opposition, fearing (or at least envisioning) an all-out political war that threatens the very stability of the American body politic and the union itself.

Fear of the nuclear option has been the guiding light in geopolitics for at least the last half of the twentieth century, and into the first two decades of the twenty-first. And while there is evidence that that fear has acted as a brake on political aggression on steroids, it has not prevented or precluded the development and deployment of biological/chemical weapons. Nor has it prevented the surge in terrorism some of it seeded in religious nationalism and some of it seeded in national anarchy. It has taken the U.S. decades to begin to include ‘home-grown’ terror as a political and legal threat, after 9/11, when their focus was on international terrorism. Such is the avoidance/denial/wish-hoping of a nation who finds it very hard to contemplate and then to address the possibility that its own people are, were and will continue to be potential and actual terrorists. Is it possible that now that that delusion has been debunked, and everyone knows that a person became president through American votes who was/is/and continues to be committed to the dismantling of the American institutional state as we know it, it might also be possible for the American political class, led by the Democrats, to open to and to embrace the previously unthinkable notion that such a cabal does have detailed and demonstrable links to forces around the world that are committed to the surreptitious and also the overt undermining of the American state, in particular and in general.

Finding the opponent’s Achilles heel, and then exploiting that weakness is a war tactic and strategy as old as time itself. And doing that deceptively, while the opponent ‘sleeps’ is also part of the code of warfare. No doubt, most political strategists in most countries are familiar with The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Not only brains and brawn are essential for a successful conflict strategy, but ‘victory without direct fighting is the most advantageous way to win. And in order to win, one has to have the support of those ‘warriors’ through clear rules, discipline, a consciousness that if the flame of any campaign burns too hot for too long it will burn itself out as protracted battles without success will wear out the resources available. Using the enemy’s resources to sustain your forces, and destabilizing the opponent is more important than killing him are two more of the arrows in the Sun Tzu arsenal. Weakening the opponent’s resolve will evoke respect for victory won through integrity than through total destruction. One of the best ways to establish a defence is to appear formless, while forcing the opponent to follow the path you create for them can generate momentum. The classical conditioning of a dangled carrot to convince them of ‘faux gain’ will provide evidence of their next move….

Taking the perspective of the battlefield, currently, from north of the 49th parallel, it would seem that the last five years, at least, have witnessed a highly effectivetdeployment of the strategies and tactics Sun Tzu laid out centuries ago, by the Republican-Putin-Orban-Bolsonaro-et al…forces to destabilize the United States of America, with implicit and explicit help from China, Brexit, nationalist populism, the internet, and the lack of preparation of the American body politic.

In a nation in which the geopolitical theatre is only a headline in an extreme incident, without the undergirding cognitive and creative energy of the population, and the speed of change far outstrips the glacial-knee-jerk oscillation of the political class, glacial in its traditions and knee-jerk in its hourly/daily reactions, there is much work to be done for the Democrats to mount an offensive/defensive plan both to win the November mid-terms and to prevent the decapitation of the American body politic and the respective institutions that provide the engine and the compass and the wheel for the ship of state.

Leadership on the world stage requires strength, energy, creativity and courage. It does not require or respect dominance. Nevertheless, internal/national dominance has already been achieved by the deconstructionist cabal conceived and scripted and emboldened by men like bannon who is himself now both willingly and enthusiastically participating in his own ‘show-trial’ while calling the trial itself on the part of the justice department a show-trial. How blatant, flagrant and narcissistic a model do the American people need to disqualify this approach and the people who prosletize the approach from ever taking charge of the reins of power?

Nevertheless, while such a proposition may seem obvious on this side of the U.S.-Canadian border, inside the war-room of the DNC, these observations are little more than idle chatter, fodder for the enemy to chortle over contemptuously.

Indeed, it is the contempt of these people for the very ‘stability and trustworthiness’ and legitimacy of the institutions of democracy, however inadequate and suspect they may be, and their determination to replace them with the raw, indiscriminate and abusive deployment of their own power, in all of its nefarious applications (suffocate the environment, deny free choice of women, deny access to the ballot by minorities, worship and enrich the rich, deprive the underclasses, barricade the borders and transform democracy into dictatorship, ‘for one hundred years’ according to bannon)…that must be the primary motivation of the Democrats.

And their infighting, whether initiated and sustained by the right or the moderates cannot and must not be tolerated for the sake of the country. This notion that the country precedes the party, and certainly the individual, the rights guaranteed by the nation and the opportunities envisioned for all can no longer be merely a slogan, some kind of wishful dreaming. The fight, just as in Ukraine, has come home to the front door of each and every American, Canadian and citizen of western democracies. And the Ukrainians are carrying the torch, and losing their lives on our behalf.

For us, each of us, our duty to uphold our right to exist in a free and open and respecting community, both locally and internationally, includes those driveway signs “we stand with Ukraine dotting the highways in Ontario, and the flags on poles in towns in Ontario, and families being integrated into the cities of Ontario, and the weapons being shipping from Canada to Ukraine…and it also includes the Democrats committing to such a creative and courageous strategy and tactics and attempt what has been so difficult to envision previously.

The intersect between a system’s capacity to deliver strategies and tactics in a unified force field, without sparking the holocaust that everyone imagines, at the geopolitical level, and at the constituency level, the state level and the national level of American politics, is hurdle needing to be jumped.

Like the General Relativity Theory and the Quantum Mechanics Theory in physics that are considered irreconcilable, and yet warrant intense study and potential resolution, potentially through the new Quantum Gravity Institute, so too this proposition that the application of new and steroidal-injected political muscle, (not necessarily rhetoric) need not lead to the total destruction of the democratic system need immediate resolution.

And the best instrument, with the resources, the need, the perspective of the landscape and the ‘weather’ and with the most creative and courageous personnel resources in the world, to carry out such a mission, with the help of the waiting army of supporters in all political persuasions and parties, is the Democratic Party of the United States.

And yet, Mr. Harrison, no pressure eh?

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Iacocca and bishop #4

 Iacocca: While we were apart prior to this next meeting, I have been doing some considerable reflection. Not one to shy away from the most challenging hurdles, nor one who knows the answer to many important questions, I am nevertheless very curious, and while that may be considered one of my personality traits, it is also integral to my relationship with God. That may sound both ironic and surprising coming from someone who has spent his career in the corporate world, after completing a degree in mechanical engineering. In my pursuit of how to participate fully in these somewhat engaging, if also highly loquacious, conversations, I did some reading. And following my preliminary discovery, I thought that perhaps we could both explore the ideas, concepts and perceptions together. In a comprehensive piece of work by the religious writer, Karen Armstrong, specifically her book entitled, The Case for God, and in the chapter entitled, Unknowing, I discovered a quote from Einstein quoted from, “Albert Einstein, ‘Strange is our Situation Here on Earth,’ in Jaroslav Pelikan, ed. Modern Religious Thought, (Boston 1990,) p. 225, and found on page 268 of Armstrong’s book:

“The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the sower of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger..is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself to us as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling is at the centre of all true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the ranks of devoutly religious men.”

We are all trying, however haltingly and experimentally, tentatively and resolutely, to bring about some kind of appreciation of our weaknesses and our perceptions of our place in a vast universe, not merely by adopting disciplines and rituals, liturgies and donations, but even more importantly by finding the attitudes and perspective that encompass and celebrate our human-ness and our limited grasp of both eternity and holiness and any deity worthy of the name. It is in the sense of fullness that Einstein’s words depict that I find both comfort and allegiance. I wonder why such an expansive, comprehensive, challenging and inspiring perspective seems absent from the experience of many, including me, in our relationship with the church. And while the premise of “emotion” is fraught with disdain in many quarters, especially among many male colleagues, I would argue that the ‘mystical,’ categorized as an emotion, is foreign to most men, at least of my acquaintance. Further, I would suggest that such a default position is rare and even more rarely acknowledged, whether by estrangement, alienation, fear, assumed and presumed superiority or inferiority, or by the minimal acquaintance they might have had through their limited reading, not to mention the dearth of such words, attitudes and perspective inside the church itself. Is there something so threatening, so dangerous and so off-putting to suggest that the church would do well to consider not only such depictions of the religious “attitude and relationship” by bringing such challenges into both the pulpit and the education programs within its purview?

 I have noted that, in his acceptance address for the 1921 Nobel Laureate in Physics, Einstein also uttered these words: “A human being…experiences himself..as something separated from the rest---a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness…Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature.

Here is another word-depiction of the paradox of being a human….experiencing ourself as a “kind of optical delusion of (our) consciousness”….If, as it seems, Einstein might mean that we are limited by the ‘delusion’ of our own consciousness, that could mean that our consciousness embraces only or exclusively, the empirical, the senses, and the demonstrably evident and that such a consciousness while not necessarily excluding the unconsciousness, to which Jung and Freud gave voice and support to and for. Encircled and engaged and often even obsessed with and by what we consider our “duties,” and our “responsibilities” and the demands and exigencies of each hour and each day, in the perception that those ‘to-do’ lists both justify and define our existence, leaves us both in fact and in concept, denied access and openness and vulnerability to those experiences which takes us ‘out of ourselves,’ into another state of mind and heart and emotion and sensation and wonderment and awe, what in contemporary vernacular might be called the “aha” moment. Such moments as the birth of a child, the majesty and mystery of both a sunrise and a sunset, the intricate and complex beauty of a flower, and the cocked head of a furry pet, fully grasping whatever we might be thinking and/or feeling. A friend once told me about a moment when, as part of his training, he attended an autopsy; resisting at first because he had never crossed that threshold previously, he was ‘coached’ by his supervisor to attend, ‘and give himself permission to leave at any moment he felt that need’. Not only did he attend, but moved physically, emotionally and intellectually further into the experience as it progressed. Assigned the task of writing a theological reflection on his experience, he wrote almost entirely about how both the complexity and the inter-connectedness of the human being over-awed him with both wonder and humility. For him, this ‘moment’ will remain one of his most memorable and impactful moments in his life. And, for him, it seems to have ‘brought’ him closer to the ineffable, the inexplicable and what we would call God. Have you had such an experience, in your pilgrimage prior to, during or following your path to the Christian ministry?

Bishop: Talk of mysticism, and the optical delusion of consciousness, while compelling and engaging, connecting and exciting, is not what I have found to be the central current of conversations within the church. The ‘aha’ moment, from my limited experience over the last three or four decades, in Christian churches, has become that moment, captured by Paul in the New Testament, that while on the road to Damascus, he saw a great light and was ‘converted’ to becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, after having lived a life of intense criticism and disdain for the faith. There have been a plethora of paths, strategies, tactics, including sermons, hymns, retreats, classes, prayer sessions, Bible study sessions, in which the primary object of the exercise was to ‘enlist, or at least to enrich’ the notion that God in and through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ saved each of us from our sin through forgiveness made available through the grace of God. Incarnating such a faith “premise”, embodying such a “belief” has taken ‘centre-stage’ amid the competing strategies to attract and to retain adherents, hopefully members, and thereby the cash that keeps the bills paid. Celebrating inspiring art, as, for example, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or even the architecture of our many cathedrals, or the elevated talent and skill and musicality of the more inspiring vocal solos, all of these being ‘part of the ethos’, nevertheless receive must time or attention. Conversion to a formal belief that requires both public acknowledgement and personal commitment has become the ‘bottom line’ of our business, to put the matter into corporate/business terms. Monks, nuns and ‘the religious’, I suppose, are considered to have both the time and the inclination to reflect upon the things of the mystery, the awesome in the daily lives of their people. The rest of the church seems pre-occupied with those secular concerns of most contemporary organizations. And, a reasonable and substantial case can be made that, in that regard, the church has lost much of the potency of the religious and spiritual potential of our calling. There are specific experiments, like Cursillo, which you may have heard of, that have some minimal comparison with what we are calling the mystical, that, perhaps we could explore in another conversation. In the meantime, however, the irony of having this conversation with a corporate tycoon is becoming so engaging, challenging and even awesome, from my perspective that I cannot fail to thank you for participating. It is the kind of conversation that has not been available in my term as bishop, and I have considerable doubt that it will be something to which I can look forward to as an expectation during my episcopate.

Until next time….

Monday, July 18, 2022

Mr. Harrison: Can you Wake the Democratic Party up to the war we all face?

 Memo to Jamie Harrison

Chair,

Democratic National Committee

Washington D.C. July 18, 2022

Good morning Mr. Harrison:

Although I have joined the growing group of American people/voters who believe that the country is unravelling, ‘going to hell in a handbasket’ if you like, and have given up on dedicating effort to writing op-ed’s to reflect my angst, disappointment and concern, nevertheless, last night my wife and I watched the documentary on Bernie Steve Bannon on CNN. Earlier in the day, clips of Senator Bernie Sanders exposing his contempt for Joe Manchin for having sabotaged Biden’s environmental package were aired, as an ‘existential threat for all humanity’ (a sentiment and conviction with which I totally concur).

Sadly, I am left with no option this morning but to write to you to encourage, support, counsel, even to beg, ( I have no shame here!), to rally all of the forces, human, financial, time, energy, creativity and courage within the Democratic Party to re-focus the party’s and all of the public spokespersons’, including candidates for election, on the danger already injected into the American body politic by Bannon and his acolytes, sycophants and terrorists. Linked to other far-right deconstructionists like Orban, Le Pin, Balsonaro, LaFarge, and likely even Putin, Bannon is alleged to be determined to wage a scorched-earth war against Democrats and neo-liberals, against internationalism, against international refugees, migrants all in the name of something called the Judao-Christian culture. His adulation of Reni Reifenstahl, Hitler’s communications agent, and the maker of the historic film, Triumph of the Will, and his control and manipulation of ‘a very imperfect instrument but…an armor-piercing shell’ (Donald Trump) linked to his relentless, “oracle” role in each and every disaster inflicted by trump on himself and the world, make Bannon a far more toxic and cancerous political operative than Mr. Manchin.

And, what’s more, Mr. Harrison, the Democratic Party, given its woke-reliance on the legal system, and the Justice Department for a criminal indictment of the former president, like Sanders’ strong opposition to Manchin, fails to take as seriously as required, the battle they (and we, including Canada and the rest of the civilized world) currently face. If Manchin is blocking any move in the Senate to address the existential threat of climate change and global warming, (clearly, he is!) then what are we to make of the role Bannon is playing on the American and the global stage? Without a functioning government, (and by functioning that includes and implies and demands the full force of all of the instruments and processes of democracy), who is going to take action against those right-wing deep pockets like the Koch’s and others, whose cash has been underwriting the Bannon conspiracy, effectively underwriting political terrorism and its agents, while slipping past two impeachments, two fraudulent presidential elections (aided and armed by Putin’s agents), a reactionary political ideology that strips “Roe” from the law books, and has already set its sights on contraception, mixed marriage, and who knows what else?

A perspective that is fixated on tackling each individual political issue on its own merits, as if it were being argued before a court, has already cost two presidential elections. Without a fully-acknowledged and addressed “gestalt” that holds Bannon and his army as the most dangerous opponent of the actual state, the United States of America, fixed in the cross-hairs of all of the many weapons (rhetorical, intellectual and emotional, and even and especially ethical) that are at the disposal of the Democratic Party, the hubristic prediction and vision that the “republicans” will take over the House, the Senate and the White House, and then rule for 100 years, as Bannon shouts, cannot be dismissed as empty rhetoric.

“Attack, Attack, Attack,” regardless of whatever crisis might crop up, in the headwinds of Bannon, is nothing short of a declaration of war….not unlike the overt and lethal declaration of war that Putin has imposed on Ukraine, and whichever country he might choose next. If the Bannon strategy and tactics have not already galvanized the Democratic brain-trust, (presuming that such a “trust” can arrive at a committed consensus, a singularity of opinion, based on the overwhelming evidence of destroy and divide, that governs the Bannon tyranny/terror), then one has to ask, what more evidence is needed?

We know that catastrophizing has been relegated to the trash-bin of political rhetoric, except by those under the seductive persuasion of Bannon. However, given that the world is and has faced multiple crises over the last several years, (and we are not out of the woods on any of those previous crises), and given that Bannon’s tactics and strategies have bent the body politic into a twisted vortex of hate, violence, lies, deception and tyranny, (not the least of which has seen three new highly questionable appointees to the Supreme Court), can the Democrats not both see and seize the moment for what it really is?

We also know that Bannon’s whole world view is premised on arousing, and then capitalizing on that arousal of, the fear among millions of Americans that “something is deeply wrong in the ‘state of Denmark’ (to borrow from Macbeth). Left-leaning intellectuals who have formal education, who speak in language that is not replete with hate, anger and venom, but rather is sprinkled with nuance and sensibilities, adherence of and respect for the rules of the game, both formal and informal, legal and procedural, who then attempt to defend what has been taken for granted for over two centuries, as the dependable  institutional framework of the American experiment in democracy,  are literally no match for either the venom, hate and bull-headed determination of a fanatical tyrant like Bannon, nor of the puppet trump, merely a pawn in his tyrannical mind-manipulation. And, unless and until that realization becomes an integral component of the brain-and-mind-set of the Democrats, it is not only the loss of the mid-term elections that is at stake. Indeed, if Bannon et al are allowed to continue unopposed in the most clarifying and even clairvoyant and ‘call-to-arms’ rhetoric, by the most honourable, respected and vigorous among the Democratic ‘stable’ of talent, we are all facing a future depleted of much of the hope many of us continue to include in our vision of the future of the world.

Racism, environmental catastrophe, a renewed arms race in many quarters, an attempt at ghettoizing minorities who are not either Jewish or Christian, in the name of some fabricated deity whose identity and purview seem known and accessible only to those brainy enough to drink Bannon’s kool-aid….these are just some of the potential risks that follow the air-raids of Bannon rhetoric that, like those Russian missiles and rockets landing on apartment and office and hospital and school buildings in Ukraine, will leave little of what we know as the evolving, progressive, compassionate and aspiring-for-equality-and-justice we are dedicated to preserving and enhancing.

And, please do not even for a moment think that Bannon’s impact and influence is or can be restricted and restrained within the borders of the American state. Deconstruction, chaos and nihilism, are the precursors of anarchy, and even the former German Ambassador to the United States, upon hearing Bannon address his colleagues in his home land, expressed “fear” about the havoc he can and will create. The Germans actually thought and believed that they had rid themselves and their nation from such political thought, and the tyranny it brought. And then, it all came back to their consciousness, (likely their conscience) as well, in and through the Bannon experience.

Let them call you racist, a bigot,….wear them as a badge of courage…these are the kind of words for which Bannon is infamous. And those are the kind of attitudes that, like the tumors that have invaded the lives of millions, seem so far out of the reach of both the research and the clinical trial community in the political arena. In fact, given the world’s avoidance, denial and dismissal of those phrases like “Never again” and “war to end all wars”…. birthed following two world wars, it is not either surprising nor unexpected that another voice like that of the Fuhrer has arrived on the stage in plain sight and within earshot of the world’s eyes and ears….

Can  and will those voices in the Bannon arsenal waken the minds and the hearts and the bodies and the consciences of the Democratic Party in the United States? And can those voices and attitudes and ideology, based as they are on the overweening need for and will to power that drives Bannon and his surrogates/sycophants….including three highly susceptible and highly manipulated women in Georgia featured on the documentary who have been seduced into drinking the Bannon cocktail…one now a candidate for the Georgia Legislature, another a Precinct Captain…along with the hundreds of others across the nation who have put their names forward for elections to positions like State Secretary of State, in charge of elections, or even for Governor in Pennsylvania, who publicly claims to be able to control the election in his state, if elected. In fact, such a claim is one of the more prominent planks in his election campaign….

Imagine, running on a promise of being able to overturn the election results in his state, if the result of the public vote is not to his and his followers’ liking! And there are hundreds, potentially thousands, who, fully convinced that the election of 2020 was stolen and fraudulent, are now committed to assuring the American people that Donald Trump, having been wronged in the last election, shall prevail in 2024.

Mr. Harrison, in closing, please speak to Senator Sanders, and attempt to convince him that his rhetoric, passion and ethical force and energy are desperately needed by the party and the country, along with that of all other prominent Democratic leaders, to go to battle in the fight against not only the tyranny that is Putin and Orban and LePin and Bolsonaro and others, but is also, right within the United States itself..in  bannon/trump/desantis/youngkin/mastriano/taylor-green and many others….

There is no time to waste!

Respectfully,

A Canadian observer.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Iacocca -Bishop conversation #3

 Let’s pick up our hypothetical conversation between Iacocca and the bishop.

We left off, last time, with Iacocca telling the bishop that ‘the train had left the track’ based on his assessment of the ‘10% more people and 15% more money’ in his charge to the diocese.

Bishop: I have reflected for some time on your observation last time, and I think there are many issues that warrant further exploration. First, all business people, and especially those like you at the top of the corporate ladder, are deeply conscious of the cost of operating any enterprise, including the church. We have buildings that are in some cases, historic, and they need constant refurbishing, new heating systems, more recently air conditioning systems. Many also need re-pointing given that concrete that held bricks or blocks together to form their walls has dried and eroded, rendering them, in some places, unsafe, unless they are restored. There are new meeting rooms, offices that need furnishings; some of our sanctuaries, in fact, have been neglected for too long and have experienced damage from water in their basements, so we have had to install “French drains’ to protect the stability of the structure, as well as the environment inside. As you also know, professional salaries keep rising, even though those in the church have historically been among the lowest in the country. We do not specifically ‘sell’ a product for which we generate a profit, based on our costs of production; we rely on the continued allegiance of parishioners, some of whose families have been attending a particular parish for generations, and have even made those parishes beneficiaries in their wills. So, there is both a marketing and what we call outreach or evangelizing, some call it proselytizing, a process by whatever name, on which we have to rely in order to remain viable. So, we have to keep our ears and eyes open to the wishes of our parishioners, who themselves, are comparing their experiences in our churches with their neighbours who attend different churches in the area. And, for example, there has been a trend, recently, to more contemporary musical liturgies, and away from those old ‘chestnut’ hymns we all sang in our youth. Also, there has been a significant impetus to make church more ‘friendly’ and less formal and less rigid, in both the liturgies and in the messages of our clergy. And, while we have long-term parishioners in most churches, as compared with some of your auto customers, who might purchase only a single vehicle from your company and then move on to another auto company, we have to continue to attract new young families to our pews, committees and choirs, as well as our church education programs. Volunteers comprise the beating heart of any parish, and their generosity includes time, skills and financial support. And at any time when a  person or a family experiences something they find uncomfortable, they are very likely to find another parish (and take their cheque book with them), whether within our denomination or not. And while they must sound like a whining and a dark assessment of our fiscal needs, these aspects of our ecclesial responsibilities are always present in our individual and our organizational minds and spirit.

The message of the gospel, however, of a life saved in and through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ following the Crucifixion, is a message that has brought hope and joy to millions around the world for centuries. And we have special holy days, like Christmas and Easter, Pentecost, and rites of initiation like Baptism, Marriage, The Penitential, and Funerals, all of them including highly inspirational themes, music and the basic and energizing shared experience of community, ideally a fellowship, that has been uplifting many for a long time.

Iacocca: I am humbled by your clear and hard-headed assessment of the fiscal needs of your church, one that is shared and supported by a variety of clergy among an even wider range of lay people. In that light, managing and even more importantly, leading such a diverse and disparate organization without many of the sanctions and carrots that we have come to deploy, really classical conditioning, in the corporate sector, has to be a task that challenges even the most dedicated, creative and courageous of men and women. From the outside, with all due respect, bishop, however, I note that those profit and loss statements on which we in the corporate world depend, seem less than appropriate from the perspective of the purpose and meaning of the church. It seems to me that the Christian faith has effectively been turned into just another “transactional” proposition. If I surrender my life to Jesus, and accept Him as my personal “Saviour”, whatever that in itself might mean to me and to anyone else who has given the notion much time and prayer, then I am promised something like an “eternal life” in Heaven, as my reward. And while that core nugget may not contain all of the overtones of high liturgies, and inspirational hymns and vocal solos by highly trained musicians, and it may also not give full expression to the contemporary music, or the ‘relatability’ and likeability of each clergy, it appears to me to be a fundamental form of another classical conditioning. From a merely lay person’s perspective, why would God want or need to make a bargain with His people, even having extended, according to the little theology I have read, a personal will to make the choice. And then, we are intended to add the notion that we are not save by our own “goodness” or holiness, but by the grace of God, another way of saying to many of us less nuanced in our theological and spiritual grasp of the ephemeral aspects of our relationship with God. And from my outsider’s perch, I consider such intimate and complex and subtle and nuanced notions about the foundational aspects of how Christians are to approach God, not only is my comprehension fragmented, but so is my attitude to the whole enterprise of how the church practices the faith.

We see large buildings and even larger investment portfolios, and robed clergy somberly conducting liturgies that ‘sanctify’ our babies as children of God, in their infancy, and then confirm their membership in the church in and through confirmation, then the church sanctifies their marriage in and through holy vows, and then essentially abandons most if not all of them to whatever kind of life they might choose….that is until and unless they might seek out a church funeral on their death. If God is love, and understanding and comfort and calm when the winds on the seas of life become turbulent, as they will for all of us at some time(s), do you actually think and believe that the church, as it is currently operating, is fulfilling the basic message of the gospel in providing deep and profound insight and care when it is most needed, especially, if the leadership announces that the goal for the next year is 10% more bums in pews and 15% more cash in the plates. What has happened to the notion that religion is a deeply engaging, highly reflective and soul-cleansing kind of process that, because I am a child of God, made in God’s image (however that phrase is to be interpreted) I am seeking such eternal values as truth, love, forgiveness and compassion and empathy, in the Christian definition of agape, love for one another? And my experience, and those of many others of my acquaintance, is that, among church goers there is considerable friction, tension, petty squabbles and an ocean of both gossip and vindictiveness or revenge. There is, at least from my observation and experience, more venom flowing under those pews, and around those altars than among the corporate board rooms in corporate executive suites, although we have more than our share as well. While I have considerable respect for what the church is trying to be in a secular culture that worships money and status and power, as a  potential antidote to that obsessive-compulsive drive, I fear that, perhaps in order to be considered “normal” the church has fallen into the same short-sighted, myopic and self-centred chasm of the fear of failure from which no clergy or bishop can or will recover.

And failure is defined in so many different ways: a legacy of sermons considered too long and boring by a majority of a congregation, a personality who is dour and reflective, even worse scholarly, an inappropriate relationship, a distant and off-putting reserved clergy, for decades anyone who was gay or lesbian, and they are still blocked from serving as clergy in many churches….I am now, and have often wondered, what kind of formation is considered both appropriate and sufficiently rigorous and is conducted in order to prepare clergy for what seems to me to be an impossible vocation. No doubt, there is a scrupulous and critical examination of the moral propriety of the person’s life, thereby putting, for example, divorcees, gays, former prisoners, labourers, and former alcoholics and/or drug addicts out of the running even for consideration, when many of those men and women would have contributed many of the very attitudes, skills, empathy and understanding that is supposed to be at the heart of the Christian message.

I have rambled on for far too long. I need to be quiet and listen carefully to your response.

Bishop: I am a little overwhelmed but all of what you have said. I think we can set aside the initial question of the need to pay the bills, for a starter. Let’s try to focus on the theological and the spiritual aspects of your concerns. I will grant you that we in our church have been too highly focused on and dependent on the skill of reading, as books have become central to our worship and that leaves many out in the cold if they are not comfortable with words, images, symbols and poetry. In fact, one of the most difficult objectives of any clergy is to help men and women open to the beauty, and the symbolic and the poetic nature of the language of scripture and potentially also of worship, prayer and one’s relationship with and to God. While I rarely get an opportunity to discuss this aspect of the faith, from my own perspective, I have held for many years, the notion that much of the narrative both of the life of Jesus in the gospels and of the writings of the prophets and the disciples has both a literal and a metaphorical aspect, and needs an imagination and a courage and a vulnerability to begin to enter into the fullness of many of those images. We are living in an age when the language of the marketplace is almost exclusively literal (sprinkled with dogerell images of obvious intent), and the reading of poetry has fallen to a small minority even in the church. Personal political and social power of status and honour and personal wealth in the culture has taken on a new and, I would suggest, somewhat more dangerous, value especially among the young. This is unfolding along with a rising tide of adulation for academic pursuits in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (for the majority) at the expense of literature and the arts. We call see that the churches have witnessed a steep decline both in memberships and in revenues. I do not doubt that some of these social and cultural developments are linked in some way(s) to the erosion of the ecclesial institutions, except for the mega-churches. And that is a topic that irritates like a virulent burr in the shoes and in the minds and hearts of many who have studied and prepared for the vocation of ministry. And we can return to these reflections next time. I deeply appreciate the opportunity to be part of this conversation with you and look forward to our next meeting.

Iaccoca: I concur with your observation that STEM studies and pursuits, along with the wages in the sectors which deploy those skills, are riding high, to the detriment, if not the demise, of the arts, literature, theology and the churches, as well as the liberal arts faculties in our universities are seeing their numbers, of parishioners and of students respectively decline precipitously. I have also been observing the steep trend line of public adulation, almost worship, of the digital tech devices and their algorithms. And, while the argument among their ‘prophets’ points to the efficiency and the efficacy of communication in and through these devices, I am more convinced every day that we are burying our faces (eyes and ears and minds) in our phones and tablets, and have grown increasingly isolated from each other. So, I can see that the convergence of both academic studies and their employment of those skills, linked to the isolation and the kind of speech patterns we are learning about from the abusive language that is predominant on social media should have or might have opened up a considerable opportunity for the churches to fill that void in both the emotional and the spiritual lives of many people. The pursuit of privacy, seemingly threatened by the surveillance devices that are now in the hands of corporates and government to monitor the behaviour of phone users, may well have spilled over into the obsession with privacy in matters of faith, and that could also be having a deleterious impact on church attendance and revenues.

And yet, there is another feature of the church’s posture on human relationships with God, at least the Christian God, as I learned about, prayed to a worshipped throughout my childhood and early adult life. In the Roman Catholic church where I was raised, we had to go to confession if ever we knew that we had done something that was considered a sin in the eyes of the church. So, if we lied, or stole a pack of gum from the corner store, or we stole a few coins from our mother’s purse, we were expected to go to confession, tell the priest of our sin and listen for the penitential direction. We might have to say a certain number of Hail Mary’s, to in effect ‘atone’ for our misdoing based on the church’s teaching that in and through Jesus’ death on the Cross our sins were forgiven. What I have watched over the more recent decades is the mainline churches taking a stand opposed to homosexuality, and to gay marriages, and to the ordination of gay men and women to the clergy. While there are some differences between how each church deals with this issue, sex and sexuality seem to have been a fixation in the church for centuries. I have never been able to understand, or even accept such a posture, given that human sexuality is both one of the most beautiful of human experiences when experienced with a loving partner, and certainly if not the most natural, at least one of the more natural of human behaviours. And given that reality, how can/does/has/did the church presume to expect to control that aspect of the lives of their parishioners…even a little? I am certainly no theologian and while I have read some of the writings of the church fathers, especially Saint Augustine, and my understanding of him and others is  at best minimal and clearly superficial. However, the shame and the guilt that he apparently experienced and wrote about has had an inordinate impact on the church’s teaching. I hesitate to consider his attitudes to be a form of theology and yet the church has wrapped itself around those human constrictions, rendering them sinful, inappropriate unless within a church-sanctified union of a man and a woman. Do you think that the church has been its own saboteur in terms of both its original self-righteousness and attempts at moral and ethical purity that so easily morphed into little more than political correctness?

Bishop: The issues surrounding the potential relationship between humans and God are very complex. And while they have both individual and societal roots and implications, like most institutions, our church history demonstrates a kind of ebb and flow, essentially an oscillation between competing theological positions. The whole notion of divinity and what constitutes divinity is very complex and is approached from a variety of perspectives. And at the core of the pursuit of all things theological is the attempt to use words to describe ‘things’ for which we have not adequate words. Everyday we learn more about the complexity of  neuroscience, for example, and the highly nuanced relationship between one’s biological, genetic nature (code) and the multiple influences that impact that biology. Overlaid on the biology is the psychology that seeks harmony with self and with the universe, itself another highly complex concept. When the church ‘fathers’ (and for the most part the writers and the activists and the leaders were male), were committing their thoughts, ideas, concepts and even visions of the terrain that has been one of, if not the most, challenging and also enervating of all of the many human pursuits much of this knowledge, and the epistemology that is linked to our lives was still unfolding. I suppose one could posit that the air at the top of the mountain is, we now know clearly, quite rarified and somewhat depleted of oxygen, while at the same time offering a perspective on the world that itself escapes words in the awe and wonder it both provokes and evokes. The idea of a perspective so vast and so beautiful and so dramatic and so captivating as well as so potentially dangerous, depending on the profile of the rock is at the heart of what we could call our search and our longing for God. That longing and that search is significant throughout human history and has impelled and compelled human attention, study, prayer, reflection, ritual, liturgy, song and poetry from the beginning. Debates over the divinity/humanity of Jesus, for example, are seen from the current periscope/telescope/microscope as almost specious and ephemeral and evocative of the cliché, ‘how many angels are there on the head of a pin?’ debate. Reminiscient of sophomoric undergraduate discussion in college dorms, such questions seem to have little to no relevance in our daily lives. And there is some truth to that view. However, there is also some turning away of our consciousness and our openness and our vulnerability to the deep and penetrating wonderment and mystery and the inexplicable that still has the capacity to draw the human person into its universe. Any attempt by any human even to consider the inner and the outer universe, regardless of where and when such consideration occurs, will touch the outer edges of comprehension, understanding and the imagination. And those considerations, like those of the astrophysicists, will need words and diagrams and poems to scratch the surface of their transmission from one to others. Such thoughts, feelings, perceptions, attitudes and even beliefs that arise from and seem to prompt human expression, will undoubtedly be only marginally conveyed from those perceiving them to others. The mysteries of birth and death, like the multiple solar systems, the mysterious brain synapses and dreams and the complex harmonies and rhythms of a Beethoven concerto, and the continuing energy of our relationships with all of these ‘things’ are ideally intimately integrated in any theology and theological perspective worthy of the name. And to have fallen into the trap of such monumental reductions of our relationship with God and the ultimate aspects of life and the universe, as seen in our debates around abortion, for example, is a testament to our failure to grasp the magnificence and the munificence of God and the universe. It is also a failure to acknowledge the divine within each human being. We really cannot legitimately separate out, as if it were another anaestetized insect, the moment when a fetus becomes ‘human’ without taking into account the fullness of the ethos in which that embryo is developing. And my issue is not with the question of the ‘moment’ but rather with the process and perspective of attempting to ‘divine’ a definition for the purposes of worshipping a deity, especially a Christian deity whose whole existence in and through love is to enhance and to support a full and abundant life for all. Indeed, my angst and the burr in my heart that keeps scratching my reflections is the degree to which we have come to consider ourselves, not as a spark of the divine within, but rather as the replacement for God, as if we have already attained the top of the mountain in our competence, and our awareness and our intellect and our knowledge. In short, I believe we have lost sight, gone blind in effect, to our own partial-ness, our incomplete-ness, our vulnerability and the humility and nakedness before such mystery.

I have rambled for too long…we both need a break!

Monday, July 4, 2022

"Dog-paddling into the waters of archetypal psychology #3

 Returning to the perspective and the processes of archetypal psychology….let’s take a look at the concept of ‘the soul’…a concept often taken for granted and often also reduced to and conflated with spirit in the discourse of practical sense (to borrow a phrase from Northrop Frye’s The Educated Imagination).

Hillman writes:

By soul I mean, first of all, a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint towards things rather than a thing itself….The soul is a deliberately ambiguous concept resisting all definition in the same manner as do all ultimate symbols which provide the root metaphors for the systems of human thought….we are not able to use the word in an unambiguous way, even though we take it to refer to that unknown human factor which makes meaning possible, which turns events into experiences, and which is communicated in love.’ (another aspect of soul is its religious concern, and three further qualifications have been added)…’First, ‘soul’ refers to the deepening of events into experiences; second, the significance soul makes possible whether in love or religious concern, derives from its special relation with death. And third, by ‘soul’ I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image and fantasy—that mode which recognized all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical. (Hillman, Archetypal Psychology, A Brief Account, p. 16-17)

(Soul) ‘bestows rich imagery, pathologies, and feeling qualities to what otherwise might become only a philosophical concept….The human being is set within the field of soul; soul is the metaphor that includes the human…Even if human life is only one manifestation of the psyche, a human life is always a psychological life-which is how archetypal psychology reads the Aristotelian notion of soul of life and the Christian doctrine of the soul as immortal, i.e. beyond the confines of individual limitation. A humanistic or personalistic psychology will always fail the full perspective of soul that extends beyond human, personal behavior. This move which places man within psyche (rather than psyche within man) revisions all human activity whatsoever as psychological. Every piece of human behavior, whatever its manifest and literal content, is always also a psychological statement….Speech about soul itself-what it is, its body relations, its origins and development, what it consists in, how it functions—are psychology’s concern only because these are the enduring ways the soul gives account of itself in conceptual form…The soul can be an object of study only when it is also recognized as the subject studying itself by means of the fictions and metaphors of objectivity.
(Ibid, p. 17-18)

 This perspective seems, at least to this scribe, to extend protractedly, an earlier concept of the psychologist Rollo May, the existential psychologist associated with humanistic psychology, in which May argued that a core ‘problem’ of being a human being is that, at one and the same time, the human being is both subject and object, both studying, reflecting and observing, while also being observed, studied and reflected upon, in May’s view, by the subjective self. May determined that human beings fear death because we cannot comprehend our own lack of existence. However, May believed that facing these feelings of anxiety and fear was a necessary experience if personal growth and meaning were to be achieved in life. (study.com)

Hillman’s depiction of archetypal psychology, on the other hand, integrates death into the fullness of the human psychological experience, and brings those images, dark and imposing and even threatening as they may be, into the fullness of the range and circle of what it means to be human, in a way different from, while deriving from May’s clinical and theoretical work. The permeation of psychology into all fields of human experiences extends previous notions of the psyche ‘within’ human to the human within psyche. This inversion, or reversal, seems to be somewhat radical, reliant as it is on the cornerstone of myth, as its primary rhetoric.

It is this movement to myth that ‘locates psychology in the cultural imagination. “These myths are themselves metaphors…so that be relying on myths as its primary rhetoric, archetypal psychology grounds itself in a fantasy that cannot be taken historically, physically, literally. Even if the recollection of mythology is perhaps the single most characteristic move shared by all ‘archetypalists,’ the myths themselves are understood as metaphors—never as transcendental metaphysics whose categories are divine figures….Myths do not ground, they open. The role of myth in archetypal psychology is not to provide an exhaustive catalogue of possible behaviors or to circumscribe the forms of transpersonal energies, but rather to open the questions of life to transpersonal and culturally imaginative reflection. We may thereby see our ordinary lives embedded in and ennobled by the dramatic and world-creative life of mythical figures. The study of mythology allows events to be recognized against their mythical background…(and) the study of mythology enables one to perceive and experience the life of the soul mythically. (Ibid p. 19-20)

There is much to ponder in these sentences of insight and challenge from Hillman. First, we are potentially encouraged and enabled to begin to see our lives through the lenses of those myths that comprise the foundational structures of human culture. It is not so much about seeing our lives from a more heroic or epic dimension and proportion; rather, we could be perceiving through the lens of the myth, as well as through our private perceptions so that we might be less likely to be submerged in our own feelings, personal trauma, therapeutic attempts to transform into some more moral, socially acceptable, politically correct ‘thing’…

In another work, Revisioning Psychology, Hillman writes that these mythic images are not to be considered as merely allegory:

Allegory is a defensive reaction of the rational mind against the full power of the soul’s irrational personifying propensity. Gods and demons become mere poetic allusions. The use of allegory as a defense continues today in the interpretations of dreams and fantasies. When images no longer surprise us, when we can expect what they mean and know what they intend, it is because we have our ‘symbologies’ of established meanings….If the mother in our dream, or the beloved, or the wise old counselor, says and does what one would expect, or if the analyst interprets these figures conventionally, they have been deprived of their authority as mythic images and personal and reduced to mere allegorical conventions and moralistic stereotypes. They have become the personified conceits of allegory, a simple means of persuasion that forces the dream or fantasy into doctrinal compliance. The image allegorized is not the image in service of  teaching. In contrast, archetypal psychology holds that the true iconoclast is the image itself which explodes its allegorical meaings, releasing startling new insights. Thus, the most distressing images in dreams and fantasies, those we shy from for their disgusting distortion and perversion, are precisely the ones that break the allegorical frame of what we think we know about this person or that, this trait of ourselves or that. The ‘worst’ images are thus the best, for they are the ones that restore a figure to its pristine power as a numinous person at work in the soul. (Hillman, op. cit. p 8)

In a cultural epoch in which literalisms not only abound, they ‘enshackle’ both the mind and the heart and curtail the potential for the full imaginative exploration of the fullness of their unique freight. And, archetypal psychology is one theoretical and even useful path and lens to arrest that erosion of the potential of soul.

Two observations seem relevant here. The first is that the student of literature is endowed with the pursuit of all of the literary images as his/her pathway to the understanding of the mind and the imagination of the writer in his lens. Those images, selected and displayed in however lyrical or tragical modality, when compared with the images selected and displayed in the works of another author of a similar or different epoch, illustrate some of the prominent themes and memes, fears and aspirations, demons and angels, of the period. And, of course, those literary periods are also comparable with the writing in other times and places.

A second observation comes from the writing done from an historical-cultural perspective, the perspective of one like John Ralston Saul. In his penetrating and insightful work, Reflections of a Siamese Twin, Canada at the end of the Twentieth Century, he opens with this line:

Canada, like other nation states, suffers from a contraction between its public mythologies and its reality…..Mythology often turns into a denial of complexity. That can become its purpose. On a good day it can provide relief from the endlessly contradictory burdens of reality. Mythology thus helps citizens to summon up enough energy to consider the public good—the good of the whole. And that simple act of consideration—of doubting—is an affirmation of their self-confidence as citizens. That self-confidence allows us to question how the public good might be served. In place of fear, and the certitude fear demands, we are able to question and to think. On a bad day, mythology encourages the denial of reality. AS if in a bank of fog, we stumble into illusion, which in turn produces an impression of relief or rather a state of delusion. In that atmosphere a rising undercurrent of fear creates that self-demeaning need for certitude. Absolute answers and ideologies prosper. These are asserted to be natural and inevitable. In this way mythology become snot so much false as mystification. (Saul op. cit. p 3)

For the purposes of dissecting some of the historical and cultural influences on the nation state that is Canada, the pervasive impact of the ‘victim myth’ is indisputable. And the manner of its applications and implications, as deployed by various political and thought leaders, one of the purposes of Saul’s work, is honourably purposed and worthy of further study.

Hillman, the archetypal psychology advocate, is neither adopting nor rejecting either the literary nor the cultural-historical perspective. His purview and perspective is the individual psychology, as considered through the lens of something/some notion/some abstraction he terms soul as metaphor, “transposing meaning and releasing interior, buried significance. …But this metaphorical perspective also kills; it brings about the death of naïve realism, naturalism, and literal understanding. This metaphorical mode does not speak in declarative statements of explain in clear contrasts. It delivers all things in their shadows. So, its perspective defeats any heroic attempt to gain a firm grip on phenomena; instead, the metaphorical mode of soul is “elusive, allusive, illusive undermining the very definition of consciousness as intentionality and its history as development. Human awareness fails in its comprehension not because of original sin or personal neurosis or because of the obstinacy of the objective world to which it is supposedly opposed. Human awareness fails, according to a psychology based on soul, because the soul’s metaphorical nature has a suicidal necessity, an underworld affiliation, a morbism, a destiny—different from dayworld claims—which makes the psyche fundamentally unable to submit to the hubris of an egocentric notion of subjectivity as achievement, defined as cognition, conation m, intention, perception and so forth. Thus this sense of weakness, inferiority, mortification, masochism, darkness and failure is inherent to the mode of metaphor itself which defeats conscious understanding as a control over phenomena. Metaphor, as he soul’s mode of logos, ultimately results in that abandonment to the given which approximates mysticism. The metaphorical transposition –this ‘death-dealing’ move that at the same time re-awakens consciousness to a sense of soul—is at the heart of archetypal psychology’s mission, its world intention.(Hillman, Archetypal Psychology, A Brief Account, p. 21=22)

 It is the shift from clarity, and strength of both a critical, rational, theoretical and illustrative perspective that attends the most serious pursuit of academic disciplines, whether they are literary, historic, scientific or even theological, that this perspective challenges, not in order to decimate or degrade any of the other disciplines, but to claim as its own. The sense of the heroic and the diagnostic and the remediative and the clinical and the prescriptive and the descriptive and analytical that lies at the core of the null hypothesis experimental approach in science, while never excluded, are supplemented and complemented with the perspective of soul. And, although abstract ambiguous and far less easily or readily encapsulated, and even still dangling and begging even more questions and myths that might be re-enacting in our lives, this perspective is, nevertheless, worthy of our personal, professional and also our academic profound consideration and reflection.

And we are just beginning to learn to ‘do the dog paddle’ in these waters!