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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

God is in control

God is in control.

So say the evangelicals after the Trump election. So says Michael Gerson albeit in a more honest and intellectual way (I have pasted his column to the end of this blog). And so say I, though with a different inflection, a different meaning entirely, from the Christian Right.

Today I saw that, while traveling in a plane to the finals in Colombia, the Brazilian soccer team, Chapacoense, crashed and all but three team members and some from the crew perished. God is in control.

God is good, all the time. So says the evangelical Right.

Aleppo battle continues. 16,000 civilians flee.

God is in control. God is good. All the time.

Think of the God of the Now. Think of His presence throughout all the created universe, His influence, His power, His essence. Where is this God, this He? Nowhere. Not in heaven, which is not a place any telescope can point out; not on Mars or any star; He is not in the Kuiper Belt or in the sun or on the dark side of the moon, hiding. 

He is not a He. But He who is not a He is in control and is always So God-awful good?

"God is a verb, not a noun."--Buckminster Fuller. Why isn't that obvious? He is not an old man, he is not some angel; it is not a he nor a He. Nor is he a She. Even in that dusty tome, The Holy Bible, God says to Moses I am that I am (Ex 3:14), which is a verb. I have read that in the Hebrew the phrase can be considered as conflating all the tenses of the verb "to be," past, future, present.

God is good. All the time.

Three army personnel killed in terror attack in Nagrota, India.

Where is God when a child is suffering? When a child with cancer is undergoing certain chemotherapy treatments, that child suffers torment; it is the same as if someone were torturing her. The child, she screams, screeches. The father can do nothing. Except weep. 

God is good. All the time.

Where is God then? In the space-less heavens? Where? It is the wrong question. God is nowhere. God is a verb; God is what is alive, God is creation as it is creating itself. 

There is no goodness in God except for what is becoming. There is no control from God except for what is and is to come. 

To be is not about happiness. It is merely to be. 

Perhaps we expect too much of God.  
..............
The Michael Gerson column is pasted below: 

Among the disappointments of the 2016 election, the close identification of many evangelicals with a right-wing populism has been the most personally difficult. On Election Day, it was disturbing to see so many of my tribe in Donald Trump’s war paint.
The most enthusiastic Trump evangelicals have taken the excesses of the Religious Right in the 1980s not as awarning but as a playbook. In this political season, they often acted more like an interest group seeking protection and favor than a voice of conscience. They blessed an agenda that targeted minorities and refugees. They employed apocalyptic rhetoric as a get-out-the-vote technique. And they hitched the reputation of their religious tradition to a skittish horse near a precipice.
As a citizen, Ihope that the faith many evangelicals have placed in the Trump administration is justified. As a commentator, I expect a tunnel at the end of the light.
It is part of my job to have strong opinions on public matters. But lately I have been conscious of a certain, unwelcome symmetry. When it comes to Trump evangelicals, I have found myself angry at how they have endorsed the politics of anger; bitter about the bitter political spirit they have encouraged; feeling a bit hypocritical in my zeal to point out their hypocrisy. A dark mood has led to anxiety and harshness.
This is the mortal risk of politics: to become what you condemn. It is not limited to one side of our cultural and political divide. Religious conservatives, for example, are typically attacked by liberals for being preachy and sanctimonious. But televangelists have nothing to teach the cast of “Hamilton.” In my case, I know — in calmer and clearer moments — that an attitude of fuming, prickly anxiety is foreign to my faith, for a couple of reasons.
First, Christian belief relativizes politics. The pursuit of social justice and the maintenance of public order are vital work. But these tasks are temporary, and, in an ultimate sense, secondary. If Christianity is true, C.S. Lewis noted, then “the individual person will outlive the universe.” All our anger and worry about politics should not blind us to the priority and value of the human beings placed in our lives, whatever their background or beliefs.
Christianity teaches that everyone broken, sick, and lonely — everyone beneath our notice or beneath our contempt — is, somehow, Christ among us. “He is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the Earth,” said Dorothy Day. I suspect this also applies to Trump supporters — or never-Trumpers, depending on your political proclivity. “Those people” are also “our people.”
We show civility and respect, not because the men and women who share our path always deserve it or return it, but because they bear a divine image that can never be completely erased. No change of president or shift in the composition of the Supreme Court can result in the repeal of the Golden Rule.
Second, Christians are instructed not to be anxious —“take no thought for tomorrow” — because they can trust in a benevolent purpose behind events. This may, of course, be a delusion, though it would be a mass delusion affecting most of humanity through most of history. If the atheists are correct, the universe is vast, cold and silent, indifferent to the lives and dreams of jumped-up primates crawling on an unremarkable blue ball, destined for destruction by a dying sun — a prospect that may be even worse than a Trump administration.
If Christians are correct, that blue ball was touched by God in a manner and form that Homo sapiens might understand. And the vast, cold universe is really a sheltering sky.
Days away from the start of Advent, many Christians are beginning their spiritual preparation for God’s implausible intervention. Advent is a season, wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his prison cell, “in which one waits, hopes, does various unessential things, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside.” For believers, Christmas culminates the remarkable story of a God who searches for us. The only adequate responses are stillness, gratitude and trust.
After a dismal and divisive campaign season, many of us need the timely reminders of the Advent season: That people matter more than all our political certainties. That God is in control, despite our best efforts. And that some conflicts can’t be won by force or votes — only by grace.
• Michael Gerson’s email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

Friday, November 25, 2016

So what the heck is evangelical Christianity?

So what is evangelical Christianity? There are the basics, or five fundamentals (or more depending on your particular denominational flavor): Biblical inspiration and the impossibility of error within scripture; the virgin birth; Jesus' atonement for sin; bodily resurrection of Jesus; belief in Jesus' miracles.

Okay, so that is a beginning.

But at some time, not sure when but probably around the mid-century, something else happened, something that created a sub-set of fundamentalism: the evangelical movement. They still liked the five F's but seemed squishy regarding other non-fundamentalists, more likely to reach out, as Billy Graham did. And they emphasized the "born again" experience, and the relationship with Jesus. They were true Lutherans in the original sense, believing stridently in salvation through faith by the grace of God's gift of Jesus' death and resurrection. There is a strong attraction to end times (we are always, it seems, living in the end times...until we aren't) and dispensationalism. There is also a strong tendency to judge: Gays have not been known to flock to evangelical churches (neither have any LGBTQ people).

The term, however, is difficult to really pin down. Mainline Christian churches such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church and even the Catholic Church (decidedly looked askance at by evangelicals) have the appellation "evangelical." Evangelicals will use the term, at least in the US, to differentiate themselves from other mainline churches, and Catholics.

There is a cultural difference, too, it seems to me. Evangelicals are largely white, and fervent nationalists, fervent capitalists, Republicans all (I am aware of something called Progressive Evangelical Christianity but it seems so far afield from what I experience in the evangelical world that I do not speak of it here), and also largely of the Tea Party/Libertarian sort.They are chiefly set in the South. But inroads have been made even in New England where an evangelical college has been started, the New England Baptist College and the Southern Baptist Association has helped to plant churches all through New England but mostly Vermont, seen as a bellwether of insidious liberalism (if they can grow churches in Vermont, one can hear them say, they can grow them anywhere).

Evangelicals love football, sports of all kinds, hunting, conservative politics, and prayer. Prayer is a biggy. Not the sort of prayer that Kierkegaard spoke of (The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays) or squishy meditation, but healing prayer, prayer that changes the lives of others and even the world. It is said often that the most important thing we can do for the nation, for the planet, for one's neighbor, for one's church, is to pray. God is always in control, you see? Nothing happens without the hand of God in it. But what of disease, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamies, war, torture, starvation, injustice... but why ask these pesky questions. God is in control!

Revival is a popular topic. Waiting and praying for revival. End times, as I previously mentioned, is another.

Climate change is not really a concern to evangelicals. Why would it be if we are living in the end times, if the new kingdom of God is just around the corner. Heck, all of politics is pretty much just a forerunner to the coming of Jesus--some even think that we can egg on God to get this going faster by pricking the Israel-Palestine conflict. Get that temple built!

All this comes at a cost. The kind of society that Jesus was teaching us about, caring for one's neighbors, peaceful but progressive change, helping the homeless the poor, widows, orphans, children, making sure everyone has healthcare, treating everyone equally and with respect, all these problems have solutions; but these solutions are not seen as necessary if we have another New Kingdom coming around the corner. Why bother changing the world if Jesus is coming tomorrow?

This is why I see evangelical Christianity as something to be fought against, something to be argued against, something to be at war with. It is one thing to believe prayer can alter the course of the universe by convincing the Creator that, Hey, that girl with diabetes should really be treated better don't you think? Those being tortured by ISIS can use a helping hand 'cause apparently you forgot about them; it is one thing to think that scripture was written by God's hand (or his inspiration whatever that truly means); it is one thing to think Jesus is coming in glory tomorrow; but it is quite another to ignore the present danger of climate warming that will destroy the lives of billions. It is quite another to ignore inequality that takes food from the mouths of children. It is quite a different thing altogether to be pro-birth but care not one wit about children drinking lead and other poisons and breathing in mercury from coal stacks, or starving, or just plain dying because their parent don't have any health insurance.

Evangelicals have also aligned themselves so fervently with the GOP that they voted (more than 81%) for Donald Trump, who cannot even be described as a Christian, let alone an evangelical. They previously voted for Romney, a Mormon, a religion evangelicals do no even consider Christian. It does not matter that Trump proved a liar, a philanderer, a man of no morals, a cheater, a xenophobe, a sexual predator. Didn't matter that his wife posed naked for a lesbian photo-shoot (I personally have no problem with the photos; but evangelicals show their hypocrisy when they don't). Didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was the "R" next to his name. It should be scarlet, and it should have been a "P" for Power.

And this is why I will no long ever consider myself an evangelical Christian.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Epilogue

“Our names may perish” said the boy, Kolya, at the funeral of the little peasant boy, Ilyusha, in Dostoevsky last masterpiece. And they will. Time will fly on by, like the sparrows that the boy wished to flock to his grave, to keep him company.

The election now seems like a funeral, so that is why the reference to The Brothers Karamazov. And for those who dislike veiled references, I point out that the progressive movement which hoped to push the nation into the future space of its past promises, Ilyusha, the poor peasant boy struck down by a mixture of peasantry and bad luck, is that very same progressive movement; a movement that hoped to quell the poverty and homelessness of a sick, anti-Christian austerity, heal the earth from a despoilment of over a century of greedy oilmen, and finish the social movement built on equality and fairness for all: gays, refugees, immigrants, Muslims, and the transgendered.

It was all going so well. Until it wasn’t.

Now we face the shovelfuls of dirt pouring down on our shocked faces.

Not forever. But long enough. At least for a generation. Until this pitiful “Boomer” generation has passed on and we make space for our children and our childrens’ children, only then can the earth hope for some respite from our clawing, grasping hands. Has there ever been a generation more deserving of its name perishing?

The world needed one more “greatest generation.” It got instead one that can be described as miserly and measly. Another conservative court will abscond with its corruptible Citizens United verdicts, its shackling of the EPA, its allowance of Republican voter fraud (known as gerrymandering).

The novel ends hopefully. Alyosha, the true hero of the novel, spiritual heir of the author, expounds on the beauty within the ties of humanity, how they will remember their friend forever, will remember their brotherhood on that day, when they stood around the grave, humbly, together in humanity and love.


Dostoevsky hoped for great things from his countrymen. Love, brotherhood. One generation after his death came the 1917 revolution and decades of death and repression. Standing over the grave of the progressive movement, after this victory of an alt-right racist, misogynist, and it also must be said, idiot, we can remember our brotherhood as Alyosha did. That is what I prefer. But I wonder about the revolution of 1917. The progressives will always be a force. Now though one does have to wonder if it is all just too late.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

What might the Church look like without a steeple, without a door?

The churches where I live are experiencing highs and lows. Most have decreasing congregations, and whether they are so-called Bible-believing churches or more liberal mainline, it doesn't seem to matter. The Southern Baptists have for the past few years come into New England with an influx of leadership and money and are attempting a large church planting effort. Hundreds of small churches are being seeded here in New England. But these are pitiful efforts (just speaking honestly). They involve grabbing some Bible believer and trying to make a pastor out of him (it is always a man). The congregation might just be his family. A cynic could be forgiven, I think, for suggesting these plantings are an effort to show the hand of God on some spreadsheet handed around a table back home in the more fertile fields of the South: See! The Hand of the Lord is at work in New England!

New Englanders have voted with their feet. They do not like going to church. Not on Sunday, not on Wednesday, not on any day of the week ending in "y." Though they might still have some vague reverence for the Bible they do not read it. They do not know its contents (that might be a good thing as it does contain some bits that are contradictory and less than what most consider "Godly" acts).

Is it time to double down and thump our dusty Bibles? Or has that time simply passed? I say that the time has passed.

There has been some nascent efforts to bring a virtual church to the masses. Most have failed. Today's pastors just do not think it Biblical. They see the Church as having to be physical, having to be a place where physical bodies congregate and where the sacraments can be administered, such as baptism. They are stuck in the sola scriptura mode of thinking. They have made an idol out of the Bible; it has them in shackles.

It is my opinion the time has passed for the physical Church. If the Church is to continue it has to be re-made, totally; it must not even resemble the Church of the past hundred or so years. It must be spic-span-tastically re-done. For the Church to evolve it has to contain the following characteristics:

  • Relegate the Bible to archive status;
  • Create different models for different types of people;
  • Use the internet to create a network, local and international, of friendships and co-workers;
  • Rely on local models for local face-to-face interactions;
  • Become flexible in terms of meeting places and ideologies and times.

When creating that list I could not decide on what the future Church needed as far as leadership structure was concerned. Top-down? Bottom-up? Who would be the spiritual leader and how would it be decided? Who would structure the workings of the church? How would this work itself out? Not sure. So I leave that for another day.

The central focus is on the second bullet point (I will skip the first for now as it is the most controversial, but for a peek at how some see the Bible in a modern light see the blog: https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/how-to-follow-jesus/ ) Different models for different types of people is a key point. In thinking about this I wanted to describe within the context of a metaphor how this might work. I've settled on the image of a forest.

We have a scene before us, from a bird's eye view, a large tract of wooded area, softwoods, hardwoods, streams with gullies and hilltops. Depending on the type of person you are, you can view this forest differently. There will be searchers, educators, poet-artists, builders, philosophers, biologists, climatologists ('ologists of all stripes). To strip the classification down to a core grouping, let's say they are:

  1. Educators
  2. Builders
  3. Poets
The Educators are within our forest church to teach and to learn. They point out the different meanings inherent within the areas of the forest, make analogies, and offer references to past teachings that further the understanding of the whole.

The Builders take the material of the forest and build new things, new buildings, new structures, that hold together and offer shelter and safety and opportunities to grow.

The Poets reveal the hidden dimensions of the self and how the self inside the forest is not really a self, but everyone; they take us by the hand and show us hidden paths that seem to be not paths leading outside us but paths leading within.

The map of this church/forest is not the Bible: at least, for us in the New Church it isn't; we don't always use the Bible for our map. Sometimes we do. Some of us choose a canon within a canon, like Luther did, and use that to show that our New Church is much like the old, or at least not quite as dissimilar as some say it is. But it is rarely used as the only map. Rather we live in the forest, and find our way by experience, by living there, by noticing things, by being aware.

But how is this Christian? Mustn't we still use the Gospel as our base? Well, yes. But the Gospel comes from the Spirit, through Jesus. We can see the Gospel in Buddha--yes, yes we can. We can see the Gospel in Lao-Tsu. We can see the Gospel in every nook and chink of space and time. But don't we have to emphasize that others are wrong? That others don't knock at the correct door? No. We actually don't. Not if Jesus is in fact the Christ, we don't. So stop worrying so much over it. Let it go. Let the question remain, and the answer pass away like a morning mist.

What if instead of studying the Bible on Wednesday nights, churches studied Dostoevsky? Or Melville? Or Goya? Or Mozart? In art we are shown ourselves, as we are and as we might be. We see the forest for the trees. And instead of studying Dostoevsky in some building which needs electricity and heat we meet in a Google Circle? Or a Facebook group? What if instead of a tithe we funded a Go Fund Me page for people in need, some we know, others we don't? What if instead of meeting on Sundays listening to a sermon on Jonah we met to repaint the homeless shelter? Or to repair someone's roof? We use the materials in our forest to build something and in so doing we create relationships and meaning in our lives.

What if some of us walked through our forest and discovered hidden meanings of who we are and what we were meant to be? The forest begins to teach us something of ourselves and our relationship not only to each other but to the world of nature. Some might see comparisons to what the Buddha taught, or Lao-Tsu.

And what if instead of handing someone a tract and asking if they know Jesus, we sent a Facebook friend request and shared an article about some bill making its way through a Congressional subcommittee (okay, not everyone is as interested in the machinations of Congress as I am).

I tend to think each Circle Church (tentative name) would evolve in its membership through time. Some would become almost evangelical in nature, its members wanting a traditional discussion of the Bible. Most would shunt the Old Testament aside and other than some mention of Jesus' words and a key teaching by Paul they would tend to the here and the now. Questions would arise. And that would be a good thing.

Questions are key for the new Circle Church: answers are to be avoided, at least hard and fast answers. We need to become familiar with living in the question. With answers we tend to pretend to know; and with this pretense we become hardened, and we fail to feel the "living waters" flowing over us. The trick is to be soft, squishy soft, to feel that sense of wonder that comes when you realize how little you know.

The danger is that we point fingers at others more answer oriented, those who see the Bible as a fundamental, as the literal Word. We can argue--we will lose. We will lose because you cannot, and should not, destroy someone's sense of mystery. The Bible, though some will see it as becoming an idol, is the touchstone for many. Leave it. Answer others with a question if need be. A question furthers the journey onward and leaves a space for others to come to you.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

What is required of us, as Christians?

Is Evangelical Christianity the worst evil ever manifested by humanity, as averred by a recent online article? No, I do not believe that. I put that in there to manifest not its inherent evil but to 1) prod the reader; and 2) to bring up the underlying premise of that article: what is required of a Christian?

The blog's author, CK Ratzer, basically states that nothing is required. Christ has given his Grace once and for all and the Law is without effect (this is the antinomian view, from anti=against; nomos=law). That is the Good News. He then postulates that Evangelical Christianity preaches a "mixed" gospel, one of repentance and grace, then one of required action, action that never accumulates into goodness, but is a cause of guilt and shame and never-ending judgmentalism.

Anyway, I didn't want to argue what he has already argued. Read the article and see for yourself.

As to what is required...

We know that "repent" is a mis-translation. It may well be, as is often repeated, the worst translation in the Bible. The Greek is "metanoia," and it means a total transforming alignment with God. Not a feeling of sorrow for one's past transgressions with corollaries about never walking that path again. But let's say we have "metanoia'd" and we are born again into a heart-to-heart with the Creator-God. What then?

One might imagine a life lived sinless, expectation-less, without further wish fulfillment. Can you imagine such a life? Neither can I.

What I imagine is a life when one might experience the joy of metanoia, but it would be fleeting. It would be maddeningly short-lived, but it would remain in one's memory. It would have been life-changing; and we would always want it back.

How do we then live our life? Do we say, I'm born again so I am saved? Now to tell the others? What of my sins, which I know full well I'm going to commit, despite Paul's assurance that we can put it all aside? [And what do I think sin is? I think sin should more be defined by weakness, a failure to live one's life as one wants to live it in accordance to our joy in metanoia.]

Does sin/weakness mean I am no longer saved? Jesus said, Go, be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. Paul said, basically, that the flesh is weak, the flesh sins ("nothing good dwells in me"), and but that the flesh isn't the "I" who sins but only the weakness of the flesh. Huh? This I think, is silly, and wrong. (As to my personal view of Paul's letters as scripture: they aren't. Paul apparently thought he was in the End Times and so I think he was attempting to be an apostle for Christ, to lead people to Christ, to explain things, but not speaking as God's Word: Why would he think of his letters as scripture if it was the time of Christ's return?)

It is weakness that lives in me, even after "metanoia." We are weak. But Grace has nothing to do with weakness. And it has nothing to do with belief (which I think really should be translated more as "trust"). A God that depends on belief --a rational, mental activity-- for being saved is not a God that I can imagine. No, belief would have nothing to do with it. It is a full-on trust; and this trust can be conceived (must in fact be) as acting on those who have no capacity for rational thought: the comatose, the mentally-handicapped. If a person with an IQ of 40 cannot be said to be saved then what is being saved for? God cannot require rational belief in order to save someone. I certainly reject such a God.

In order to envision trust, imagine a sleeping body floating in a pool. The person is incapacitated and held up by only a hand, the hand of another standing by the person's side. If the hand slips away, the person's body flips over, drowns. The mind does nothing for the grace. It is only the trust of the person for the other holding him/her that saves.

The person's body in the illustration is not an actual body: it is the person's oneness. Call it soul, spirit, essence. It does not rely on thought. It relies on the hand supporting it. The spirit trusts the hand of God. I think it might be this when we experience metanoia, joy. We sense it, profoundly, and at once. In the Now! [It should be mentioned that I believe it to be important to stress the "it might be this" of our little hypothesis...we have too much of the "this is that" kind of nonsense: we suppose, we guess, we wonder...we don't know squat.]

The weakness of the body --what others might call sin-- of ourselves, continues unabated in this life. We never get stronger. We can never rely on our actions to save us. Some have suggested that since we are sinful creatures we can confess our sins and then go on sinning...only to confess again. Once saved, after all, saved forever, right?

We are always floating in the pool. Always weak and almost drowning. The metanoia keeps us from drowning, the trust in the hand that holds us. To say as we just have, that we can confess and then go on sinning just misses the point: we are always sinning; we are always weak; we are always floating and in danger of drowning. Always. Being saved isn't like removing us from the pool. I know a lot of people think that it does, that we are then saved and we don't sin anymore, that we can just climb on out, say Whew! and be done. That just seems silly to me. It isn't the world that I know, at least.

I like this metaphor of floating, almost drowning, because the next question comes up quite naturally: Why do we drown? No, really drown, or die, or suffer? Where is that mysterious spirit hand then, eh?

Well, we die. We are all going to die; it is our fate. We don't like to think about it. We pretend we are going to live forever. Someday our last breath will be taken. We are saved --we experience metanoia-- in our life, while we live; it is not about any hereafter. It is about the Now! And perhaps every day there is suffering for us; there certainly is suffering all around us.

There are two human emotions that have the capacity to join us all together: Love, and Suffering. Both can have elements of selfishness. Love can veer toward desire, can be all-consuming to the point that we shut out the rest of the world. But Love can be enormous, can be world-wide in scope, it can be amazing. And strong! Suffering too can be identity focused. We are in pain and we think of ourselves and how we don't want to feel this way. But when seeing others suffer, and seeing them thus we feel their pain, we are drawn to them in that suffering: it is painful and it is awful in a way that is the complete opposite of Love. It reminds me of the taijitu symbol (yin-yang), opposites but inhabiting the whole.

The fact of our human suffering does cause many to reject God, reject Christianity. This may be wrong. We Love; we Suffer. This is being human. There is no escape. What is required of us, as Christians? Perhaps it is merely this: to Love, and to Suffer, and to reach after what joins all of us, the Now!, the metanoia, the joy.


Saturday, October 01, 2016

Who are you, and what am I?

The philosophy of self is one of those nitty-gritty subjects that Hume and Kant and Descartes liked to discuss. What is the self? And why is that at all important?

It is important to me personally in that a main tenet of my religion--which up until a few years ago (not sure how I would describe it today...perhaps progressive Christian) would be described as evangelical protestant--was that one needed to be "born again." Also, obviously, having a belief in the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal savior. Other creedal beliefs were also thrown in (the Bible being inspired by God, the miracles of Jesus, the virginity of Mary, the belief in scripture).

So that was "me." But what if "me" were not me? What was the "me" of me? If anything? If I could not answer that question, then in what sense could I say, for instance, that I was an evangelical Christian? That I was born again, that I was destined for union with God? If I could not answer that question, it seems to me, then these questions all became moot. And so the idea of Self is of particular importance...for anyone who holds certain faith questions near and dear.

First: Can I say what I am not? I think so; I am not a chair, not that hat hung on a post, not that cat linking its paws. I sense things, and this gives me a pretty good idea that I am a something that can be said to be not-that. (Maybe Hume and some others would disagree.)

Second: My idea of Self is mental. If I lose a leg, or both, or an arm or a finger, heck, a gall bladder too, I still can consider myself a self. This is a mental thing, the self. Unless we are transferring to the mind (whatever that is) merely the actionability of the brain, which can be considered just another organ, albeit one that houses the self. Is the mind merely the brain's activity or is it something else? Who knows? Let's assume it is the brain's activity since how in the heck are we going to prove otherwise?

Third: The self is my mind. But...the mind varies. And from what I read it varies quite a bit, that a "unified experience" only lasts a few seconds in the human being [Galen Strawson 1997]. We shouldn't assume that we are only one self; we might be multiple selves, even if these multiple selves are so closely related to one another that they blend continuously into one another (or seem to). From this it seems clear to me that we are indeed multiple selves. Certainly the "I" of my tenth year is different than the "I" of my twentieth year. It is very likely that each minute of each day of our existence has within it multiple selves. I doubt very much if the "I" of ten minutes ago is the "I" of my now.

Fourth: We are contingent beings. By this I mean that we can consider ourselves to be "what we desire to be" or even "what we desire to believe" or we can consider ourselves the net result of our decisions: we are the self of an act of decision. So we could say that that gentleman was the guy who decided on that occasion to sign up for the army and eventually become a veteran. Also, since employment is another popularly held view of our "self" he could be considered the gentleman who got his degree in electrical engineering while on a G.I. bill. Any decision we make really could work. But here is the rub: our decisions are contingent on many factors, pressures, that one day to the next change (and remember that we are probably different selves moment to moment). That would make our idea of self contingent. We become agents of chance, of our environment (and our natural tendencies, which though genetic, can still be agents of chance since we are from our birth chance creations through the machinations of DNA).


It is also important, too, to see ourselves as within a group, especially as within a religious group or cultural group. A Stanford encyclopedia article (to be read here if you wish) points out that there is new literature on the societal pressures that go into making one's idea of self. This seems common sense to me: the groups we belong to pressure us to conform to an identity; this pressure causes us to make decisions and to create in consequence a view of our "self" though it is only contingent on something outside ourselves (whatever "our self" can constitute).


The same article cites Velleman (1989) that shows that our desire to act in a certain way is influenced by how we predict we wish to act. Here:

Our desire to understand what we are doing, at the moment we are doing it, is usually satisfied, since our predictions about how we will act are themselves intentions to act, and hence our beliefs about what we will do are “self-fulfilling expectations”.
Thus we are what we wish ourselves to be. We want to be that hero depicted in some book and we base our expectations of our self on the prediction that this is to be our fate.

All this is to say that we are not what we seem. We live our lives pretending to be someone. Pretending to be part of one's chosen group, but that choosing itself was a result of some contingency. In the end we are fluid. The Tao Te Ching, in its first chapter:
The Way - cannot be told.
The Name - cannot be named.
The nameless is the Way of Heaven and Earth.
The named is Matrix of the Myriad Creatures.
Eliminate desire to find the Way.
Embrace desire to know the Creature.
The two are identical,
But differ in name as they arise.
Identical they are called mysterious,
Mystery on mystery,
The gate of many secrets. [A.S. Kline tranlator]

Could not this be speaking of the Self? Matrix of the Myriad Creatures?

But, so what? This question: When can I say I have achieved Myself? When can I say "I believe this!" or "I am born again!" We are acting, pretending, that we are making rational decisions that create our own being, and that this being is unchanging somehow (though we all recognize the mutable nature of being).

Am I born again? Do I believe in Jesus, the Christ? Am I the person who chose to wear a blue shirt this morning? But differ in name as they arise. Identical they are called mysterious. 

We ask questions of people, spiritual questions, that no one can answer honestly. So we should stop asking these questions. Or, asking them, expect no answer, and if an answer does come, expect it to float away. What is there but to look into the eyes of another, and try to see oneself? Isn't that what Jesus meant when he tasked us to love one another? Another non-self, mysterious, a gate of many secrets.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Creepy Nationalism

Poor Poughkeepsi. They had to take a flag off a fire truck. Seems most fire trucks weren't built to hold a flag and somebody thought that perhaps it is not the best place for display. But now outrage has set in. Once a flag goes up it is such a delicate matter to take it down. Another example of the creeping fascism within this country. Don't have a flag on that fire truck? Well, why do you hate America? Every photo opportunity for every candidate for public office now has the guy or gal standing before a dozen or so flags. Flag lapel pin? Check. Flag tie clasp? Check. Flag underwear? Check. If you're caught on the beach somewhere and you are a public employee you better have your flag swim wear. Oh, and gymnasts everywhere, when that anthem plays you better hurry up and stand with your hand over your heart (which got its start in the 1940s due to the prior stance of the Bellamy Salute--essentially the Mussolini/Hitler salute--being, well, deemed less suitable), otherwise you'll be pilloried, cursed at, and generally demeaned by all those good flag-wearing people out there. Right, Gabby (but why wasn't Michael Phelps similarly pilloried--oh, yeah, he's a white guy)?


And by the way, where is your Bible?!

There are citizens of this country that do not feel they need to wear a flag or have one within ten paces every moment of their waking day (nor to sleep under flag-decorated bedspreads) in order to feel proud of their American heritage. That should be okay. There are also some people who feel that there is a problem with displaying the flag overmuch, that this reeks of fascism and a tendency to be hypercritical of anyone daring to point out deficiencies within our nation. This is highly ironic, since those on the far-right (do we need to say "far-right" anymore since that is the only locale on the entire right-wing political spectrum?) commonly criticize this nation. Indeed, the left has now become the arbiters of a neo-Reaganism with regard to national oaths if the recent Democratic convention is any example. 

If you do not display the flag that doesn't mean you hate America. It doesn't mean you disrespect veterans. It probably just means you think the American flag should be displayed at grave sites on Memorial Day, on public buildings, and at memorials. Not on fire trucks. Not on underwear. Not on swimming trunks. Heck, most of the time, a flag just isn't necessary to be in view. I so wish we could get rid of the flags that serve as a prop backdrop for candidates.

Let's not turn the flag into an ornament of discord--Francis Bellamy (socialist Christian minister that he was) wrote the Pledge of Allegiance so that the North and the South could have something to rally behind, to be united under. Hatred, it seems is always the disease of the nationalist. Do we really need to wrap it up in a flag, hang it on a cross, and salute it?