• Tag Archives Christianity
  • Humanism

    Fall                                                      Waxing Autumn Moon

    Spiritual Resources for Humanists.  Been thinking about this from an odd perspective.  Humanism is often characterized as anti- or post-Christian.  It is, of course, easy to see why this should be so in such Christian marinated cultures as those of the United States and Europe.  Easy, yes.  But accurate?

    Think about it this way.  If there were no monotheism, no polytheism, no reaching out beyond the natural world to a supernatural (anti-natural?) realm, then raising a Christian theology would be seen as anti-Humanist or, maybe, post-Humanist.

    If you, like me, find the idea of a God out there, beyond us and our world, no longer viable, then we have to consider that there has not been a God out there right along.  That means, further, that Christianity, Islam and Judaism, among many others, have never had their metaphysics right.  In other worlds there was no God in Israel, Ephesus, Corinth or Rome.

    In that case, humanism is counterpoised not to a deity, but to a story, rather stories, about deities; narratives that, like kudzu in the south, overgrew everything, changing their shapes and appearance until all that could be seen was a green, viny realm.

    These are narratives with a great deal of power, narratives that inspire devotion, sacrifice, even war, yet, for all that, narratives not substantially different from the very best fiction.  The difficult part to keep in focus here is the difference between the narrative as fiction and the history of the narrative’s power.

    In other words, even though the Biblical material, from this perspective, has the same metaphysical punch as Hesiod and Ovid, compilations of Greek myth and legend, the historical actions of those who imbibed this narrative from their birth and acted on it in complete confidence of its veracity is nonetheless real, just as are the actions of Periclean Athens, Sparta and Corinth.

    The historical depth and reach of Christians cannot be dismissed as fiction and reveals, in it all its vitality, the true force of myth and legend.  A story like the passion of Jesus, because it includes compassion, sacrifice, redemption and the defeat of death, resonates energetically with daily life, in particular the daily life of those on the wrong side of history.

    Nietzsche recognized this and called Christian morality slave morality, a morality meant to bring down the strong and the good, a morality meant to turn on its head the way to power. ***

    We do not have to give up the mythic power of the Christian story as humanists.  No, we can reach into the Biblical material and read these narratives with the same keen eye and open heart that Christians do.  We don’t have to buy the notion of Olympus to be inspired by the story of Hercules, saddened by the story of Orpheus and add depth to our understanding of  fall and spring through the story of Persephone.

  • The 4th of July

    Mid-Summer                                                     Waxing Honey Flow Moon

    Independence Day.  Celebrating our ancestor’s victory over the British army and considering how their enlightenment ideals apply to our time.  Happy 4th of July!

    For an unreconstructed radical like myself, these are trying times.  I wonder where the sense of communitarian spirit has gone.  Yes, we have a can do, go it alone spirit, too and I participate in it.  The ethical underpinnings of Western civilization, however, fed by the the deep springs of Athens and Jerusalem have always reminded us that we share this journey.   Our lives are not ours alone, but belong as well to the whole, to the commonweal.  When we establish a government of the people, by the people, and FOR the people, we make this claim a part of our countries essence.

    The rugged individualist, the objectivist, the capitalist have the inclination to see the community as a source for their betterment, which is fine as long as their betterment does not come at others expense.  In that case these same perspectives become exploitative and parasitic, not interdependent, mutual.  A 5-year old knows that if all you do is take and take and take, then the other kids will no longer want to play with  you.

    The atomistic viewpoints of groups like the Tea Party and, in an insult to the Christian faith, the evangelical right, make it clear that they want the government to enforce their bigoted views of morality:  no stemcell research, homophobia and respect for only one point of view in struggle over Roe v. Wade.  They want no government aid to the poor, no environmental review for corporate projects that threaten the long term health of our natural world.  They have a vast umbrella of negatives with which they hope to block the sunshine of equality and shared responsibility.

    They want the constitution, like the bible, to be an inspired document, written not by men and women, but by gods, inviolate and sacrosanct.  It isn’t true of the bible and it is even much less so true of the constitution.  Both of these documents live, that is, they get swept into new eras, with new challenges and demand a hermeneutics for understanding their relevance.  Always.  This is an iron law of human history, no document from the past means the same thing today that it did yesterday.  That is anachronistic thinking at its most damaging, its most infantile, its most destructive.

    My sister lives in Singapore and, up until very recently, so did my brother, Mark.  This makes accessible, in a personal way, the viewpoints of other cultures toward our country.  Many people don’t like us, see us as arrogant, uncaring and ruthless.  Of course, the big kid on the block often has that reputation, deserved or undeserved, but our recent actions, Iraq and Guantanamo among them, have cemented these opinions.

    Even so, I have this urge to celebrate our country.  We are a beacon of freedom, a beloved place of opportunity and real diversity.  We have committed ourselves to constructing a nation not on history or geography, but on founding ideals of freedom and equality and brotherhood. (sic) The number and variety of persons who come to this country from all over the world, the number and variety of them who become part of the patchwork quilt that is our history and our present at its very best, attest to the essential value of our presence.  We negotiate the boundary between sending cultures and our history and, again at our best, we do it with open hands and hearts.

    Have we slaughtered Native Americans and held slaves?  Yes.  Have we engaged in first-strike aggression?  Yes.  Have we often pretended that our nation, defended by two oceans, exists alone and isolated?  Yes.  Have we laid waste to our natural resources in the name of jobs and profits?  Yes.

    We should not be, cannot be, proud of these transgressions, but I submit that we are not the Great Satan.  We are not the only nation whose actions have transgressed human decency.  Further, I would submit that we are not even the worst, not even close.  Look at the Armenian and Jewish genocides.  The pogroms in Russia and the slaughter of the Stalinist era.  The vicious regime of the Khmer Rouge.  This is a long list and it runs deep in our world history.  No, we are a nation that has blundered and made arrogant mistakes, but we are neither all bad nor all good.  We are, rather, an imperfect nation with an imperfect history.

    As I look around the world, I find no country more committed to creating a united states of freedom, no country more committed to embracing the worlds refugees, no country more aware of its errors and no country more able to make amends.  We are a young nation, barely 240 years old, maybe an early adolescent in terms of our development.

    We must not give in to the petty, the self-aggrandizing, the screw the other guy mentality of our rising political movements.  We’re better than that.

  • Still Examining

    Imbolc                                                        Waxing Bridgit Moon

    Greg Membres, my Latin tutor, recommended a film, The Examined Life.  You may have seen it already since it was made in 2008, but it’s a powerful introduction to some fundamental philosophical questions like ethics, the meaning of life, political theory.

    One truth struck me more powerfully than any other while watching this movie.  I imagined, when I was in high school and then in college, that there was an upward and onward nature to learning, a steady progression in which high school and college pushed me, and a progression that would give me enough momentum to take my life up the mountain, all the way to the top, that somehow learning and life would be a regular unfolding of answers and conclusions.  After, maybe, my sophomore year I began to realize this was a mistaken view, not only mistaken but might have had reality actually inverted.

    That is, I was never more certain of the truth than when I was in college and then, later, in seminary.  Life since then has offered a sometime gradual, sometimes sudden degradation of both the things I know for sure and the things I know at all.  An abstract thinker by nature and inclination, I found it logical, desirable to hunt for truth in the abstract systems of philosophy, theology, theoretical approaches to various disciplines.  At one point, in fact, I wanted to study the theoretical foundations of anthropology in graduate school.  Turns out not many graduate schools had much interest.  In either the discipline or me studying it.

    As life experience and longer thought has lead me to reconsider many of my core positions, I have abandoned Christianity, the liberal politics of my father, the traditional roles of men and women, boys and girls, the positive assumptions about capitalism with which I was acculturated, the metaphysics of Rene Descartes which still informs our unexamined ontology, a soul, an afterlife, respect for the government, though not for democracy itself.  These are not trivial decisions, nor were any of them made lightly nor suddenly.

    On some of the big questions like the meaning of life, I have chosen to abandon my search.  Life is what we are, it is what we do and needs no abstract cover story for its purpose.  This may be too minimalistic for many and I get that, but for me, I find my purpose in life itself, the living of it that includes marriage, family, friends and  actions that press for greater justice, a sustainable future, a climate that will not kill us.

    Though I’m not a complete cultural relativist, I’m pretty damn close.  Murder, oppression, suppression, starvation, unchecked disease, poverty, racial and sexual discrimination of any kind are wrong, in my view, universally.  In almost all other matters, I’m more than open to different cultural perspectives and practices, I expect them, celebrate them and would find the world shallower and morally impoverished without them.

    Still working on this, noodling it.

  • Grounded

    Lughnasa                               Waxing Back to School Moon

    Finished digging the potatoes.  The crop seems smaller than last year’s, but I can’t tell for sure.  Still, we don’t eat potatoes often and we have enough to last us quite awhile.  Kate made an early autumn roast vegetable medley with onions, carrots, leaks, garlic, beets and one potato I pierced with the spading fork.  It was delicious.  So was the raspberry pie–of which we have two.  Our raspberry bushes have been exuberant.  We’ve still got leeks, greens, beets, carrots and squash in the ground.  Some of it will stay in the ground until the frost and freeze gets serious.  I made a mistake last year with the carrots and didn’t get them out before the ground froze.  They became organic matter for the soil.  We also left our entire potato crop out in our garage stair well.  When the temps dropped down, way down, the potatoes froze, then thawed.  Not good for potatoes.  We’re trying to not make those mistakes this year.  We’ll make new ones!

    Working with Leslie today reminded me of the punch there is in ministry.  Yes, the institutional confines squeeze life out of faith, but the individuals, the people can put it back.  She asked me an interesting question.  We got to talking about Christianity and she wondered, “Do you miss it?”  I’m not sure anyone has asked just that question of me.  I don’t, not at a faith level.

    I miss the thick web of relationships I once had there.  I miss the opportunity to do bible study.  That may sound strange, but higher criticism of the bible is a scholarly affair requiring history, language, knowledge of mythology and tradition, sensitivity to redactors (editors), an awareness of textual differences, as well as a knowledge of the bible as a whole.  I spent a lot of time learning biblical criticism and I enjoyed it.  Not much call for it in UU or humanist circles though.

    By the time my nap finished it was too late to put the shims in the hives.  I hope there’s some clear, sunny time tomorrow.  Also need to put the feeder back on the package colony.

    The Vikings.  Not sure.  Favre needs some better wide receivers, yes.  The defense played well.  Adrian Peterson did, too.  It felt as if we were outcoached the last two games.  Not sure about that, that’s a murky area to me, but something doesn’t feel quite right.

  • After this life

    Summer                            Waning Summer Moon

    Life keeps coming at us until this one stops.  Gyatsho has been on my mind since his death.  As I indicated the day I discussed his death here, the Tibetan belief is that he is now in a possibly 49 day process of finding a home for his reincarnation.  As I’ve worked outside, I’ve looked up from time to time, imagined Gyatsho’s consciousness, his very subtle mind, making a transit through the invisible world, hunting for a new home, working toward enlightenment.

    As I’ve considered this, it comforts me.  The notion of a next life, especially a next life focused on learning left over lessons from this one, makes sense to me in a way.

    What has not made sense to me since early high school is the binary logic of Christianity:  heaven or hell.  One lifetime, then out to eternal punishment or eternal bliss.  Even when I worked as a minister, my theological system did not include such a cramped afterlife.   God is love.   If so, then love will rule a soul’s disposition in the afterlife and love forgives all things.  No need for hell.  This seems to collapse the present into amorality, but only so for persons devoid of gratitude or unaware of grace.

    My belief now runs more toward composting, but I’m open to the notion of survival.  If we do survive in some way, I like the Buddhist idea.  Even though I like it, I find it hard to believe because the evidence we have from returnees is nil.

    The metaphor that works best for me is the chrysalis.  This body I have now is a chrysalis, death triggers the next transformation, mutation.  Perhaps we pass into one of the multiverses and never even know it happened.  The next great mystery.

  • I’m with Rev. Wright

    44  bar rises 29.89 0mph SW dewpoint 23  Beltane

                  Waning Crescent Moon of Growing

    A first tonight.  A salad made from lettuce I cut from the plants in our kitchen.  Enough for two with plenty left on the plants.  So, one test of the hydroponics down, a few more to go.  I want to produce tomatoes and herbs on a year round basis, while also using the setup to start plants for the outside garden.  Flowers, too, would perk up the kitchen and the inside, especially in winter.  Slow, steady.  Learning as we go.

    Kate has tomorrow off, unexpectedly, so we’re going to go over to NOW fitness and buy a new treadmill.  Tres exciting.

    Looks like a couple of good days for outside work Sunday and Monday.  I have plenty to do.

    I haven’t said anything here about Rev. Wright and Barrack Obama.  I’m with Rev. Wright.  I know, I know.  He comes off like a fruitcake, an angry voice untethered from day to day reality.  His sermons are strident, cut deep.  His critique of American society as a racist, vicious culture seems to describe a place none of us know.  And we don’t.

    Preaching has a long and complicated history.  Its strongest and its most dangerous form comes when a minister decides she must speak truth to power.  This always, always comes from a particular situation which the minister holds up to the Christian tradition, most often scripture in the Protestant community of which Rev. Wright is a part.  The preaching task is never done in the abstract; it is always a spoken word to a people, a spoken word shaped by the scriptural and historical roots of today’s Christian church.  When the community to which you speak and from you yourself come have experienced marginilization, unearned disadvantage, then the spoken word will express the truth of God’s justice to the powerful forces aligned against your community.

    This type of preaching is never easy.  It costs blood.  It often produces pain.  Clergy who insist on prophetic preaching, because they feel they can do nothing else, often lose their jobs, get branded as crazy, misguided, idealistic, out of touch.  This is just power talking back, trying to press the truth to the margins again, where it can be contained.  We, that this those of us in the white upper-middle classes do not know what it means to live as marginal persons, bereft of influence, beholden to power.  We are the main-stream, the influential, the holders of power.

    Naming truth hurts.  But, as Jesus said, the truth shall set you free.  But, he might have added, only after a really long painful time.  Even so, it doesn’t make the truth any less true.   

    I never served a congregation as a minister for just this reason.  I knew my politics were too radical for a congregation of Presbyterians.  The tension and pain would not have had  a constructive outcome.  Rev. Wright made a different calculation and I support him in it.