• Tag Archives dialectic
  • Orthodoxy become Orthopraxy: A Political Sinkhole

    Samain                              Moon of the Winter Solstice

    An interesting article in this morning’s Star-Tribune about the conflation of economics and religion, in particular laissez-faire economics (individualism) and Christianity as defined in William Buckley’s God and Man at Yale.  The author of a biography of Buckley, Carl T. Bogus, also the writer of this column, identifies this conviction as a sentiment rather than an argument, that is, the United States must be as radically laissez-faire in its economics as it is pure in its Christianity, so orthodoxy conflates into orthopraxy, a recipe for political disaster.

    Bogus sees these two sentences as central to GAMAY (as Buckley’s book is called by movement conservatives):

    “I myself believe,” he declared, “that the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world. I further believe that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level.”

    The effect of this framing is to create either/or, black and white analysis.  Either you are Christian or you are not.  Either you are a laissez-faire economics individualist or you are a communist/socialist collectivist.  Either you are a Christian or you are an atheist.  One side is good, the other bad.

    Buckley was an Episcopalian and had definite opinions about the correct, or orthodox line of thought within Christendom, a bright line that defined his Episcopalianism over against diluted or deluded others.  In the same way either you were a free-trader, a hands-off the individual para-libertarian or you were a collectivist, crushing the individual and the marvel of the free-market.

    This splits the world, shattering the notion of a dialectic where individualism and collectivism, for example, exist as poles on a continuum, in dialogue with each other and informing each other.  In dialectical thinking the world is more complex, more given to nuance, there may be times where collectivism makes more sense and others where individualism does.  They are not, in dialectical thought, opposites, rather they represent dynamic forces always at work.  In other words you can’t have one without the other.

    Bogus helped me follow the trail from Buckley, who was well-known for his warm personal relationships with liberals, to Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Dick Cheney, evolution and climate-change deniers.  This underlying either/or analysis of Buckley’s has devolved into a crusade the evils of secular humanism and government action in general, though especially government action designed to show our collective responsibility as citizens of one nation.

    I’m not sure what trail we follow to get back from this place where heaven is Milton Friedman and hell is John Maynard Keynes, where heaven is right-wing Christian evangelicalisim and hell is any other way of understanding the world.

    Orthodoxy helps clarify and simplify the world, leading to clear lines of ethical and moral thought.  When orthodoxy makes the concomitant leap to orthopraxy, that is, practice must always be in line with orthodox belief, we find ourselves in the same spot as those with conservative Islam looming over them.  Mullah Limbaugh and his fellow clerics, Ann Coulter and others of the shock jock circuit lash waverers back into line.



  • It’s About Time

    Fall                                      Waxing Blood Moon

    On the I-Google page there is a widget that shows the progression of night and day across the globe.  In Singapore it is Friday already, 12:30 p.m. Lunch time.  Here in the middle of North America we have blackness.  This is another of the rhythms of nature, the one so familiar it can come and go for weeks, months, even years with little remark.

    Yet imagine a 24 hour period when the day/night cycle changed in some unexpected way.   What if at 12:30 p.m. it became night?  Or, what if, at midnight the sun came up?  No, I don’t mean the poles, I mean right here on the 45th latitude halfway between the equator and the pole.  Earthquakes challenge a core assumption we carry unknowing, especially those of us in the relatively quake quiet Midwest.  The assumption?  That the earth beneath our feet is solid, unmoving.  The regularity of day and night is also a core assumption, one we carry unaware.

    It is these rhythms, day and night, the changing of the seasons, the growth of flowers and vegetables, their constancy that gives us stable hooks on which to hang the often chaotic events of our lives.  Even if a death in the family occurs we say the sun will come up tomorrow.  Flowers will bloom again.

    Bringing these changes into our consciousness, the moon phases for example, can give us even firmer anchors.

    They give me a feel for the continuity that underlies the messiness of human life and the apparent vagaries of time.  It is a continuity of positive and negative, yin and yang, dark and light, the dialectical tension between these opposites which cannot be without the other.  Taken all together they can give us a confidence in the nature of the 10,000 things.

    They make understanding space-time possible for me, in spite of my lack of mathematical sophistication.  That space and time create a matrix which holds everything makes sense in a universe where day follows night and winter follows fall, then happens all over again in the next cycle.  This is not a linear model, it is not chronological, it is deeply achronological.

  • How I Work

    76  bar falls 30.01  0mph SW dew-point 58  sunrise 6:06 sunset 8:30  Lughnasa

    First Quarter of the Corn Moon  moonrise 1326  moonset 2226

    “More Americans are likely to suffer kidney stones in the coming years as a result of global warming, according to researchers at the University of Texas.”  Agence France-Presse, July 2008

    N.B. All these quotes about global warming come from this website:  The Warmlist.  Here’s the webmasters explanation:

    “This site is devoted to the monitoring of the misleading numbers that rain down on us via the media. Whether they are generated by Single Issue Fanatics (SIFs), politicians, bureaucrats, quasi-scientists (junk, pseudo- or just bad), such numbers swamp the media, generating unnecessary alarm and panic. They are seized upon by media, hungry for eye-catching stories. There is a growing band of people whose livelihoods depend on creating and maintaining panic. There are also some who are trying to keep numbers away from your notice and others who hope that you will not  make comparisons. Their stock in trade is the gratuitous lie. The aim here is to nail just a few of them.”

    So, don’t say I didn’t fess up.  The Star-Tribune turned me onto this site.

    Shifted focus. Gonna work on that firepit.  I decided Kate can help me transplant day lilies when she gets home and I’ll still have time to transplant the iris.  I get on a task and sometimes don’t lift my headup to check whether it makes sense.  Heresy Moves West is an example.

    The research alone would take a good bit of time, I knew that.  That meant I could not hope to research and write it in the week prior to September 14th.  Knowing that I began to develop this knot in my to do lobe.  It began to insist, get it done.  Get it done now.  Right now.  This even though the date was 8 weeks away at the time.  Anyhow, I finally opened up and let the lobe have its way.

    Once begun, research and writing, at least for me, need to be one fluid motion, the research followed by the writing.  In my case this is because as I research various ways of slicing and dicing the information comes to me throughout. At night before I go to sleep the data often floats up and demands consideration.   Sometimes I make note of these patterns, sometimes not.  Often I don’t because I want the order and interpretation fungible to the last possible moment.

    Why?  In between the research and the writing there is a creative time in which the data and the various arrangements of it begin to pull other information, other paradigms out of my memory.  This process can change the data’s relevance.  Let me give you an example.

    At first I imagined a straight chronological presentation.  The Unitarians began at such and such a place at such and such a time.  The westward expansion of the US began in this time period.  It rolled out according to these stages, in this place at this time and another place at another time until the whole shebang ended up encountering Minnesota. This came to me first because historical movement often seems cleanest presented in chronological order.

    Soon though, as the pieces began to swirl, it became clear to me that the historical progression would have to start earlier, then even earlier.  I wrote about this a while back, my need for context.  When I realized there were big ideas at play here, the order of things changed again.  Then it was a history of ideas approach that made more sense, capturing the development of the peculiar notion of religious freedom in the US.  As that became clear, a second important dynamic rose to the top, the rolling dialectic between orthodoxy and heterodoxy.

    To highlight the ancient character of this dynamic I decided to find its beginnings in the Abrahamic tradition with Abram’s call away from polytheism to allegiance to YHWH.

    Both of these decisions meant that the data in the presentation would have to show how the westward movement of heresy (the rolling dialectic of orthodoxy and heterodoxy in Unitarian history) advanced thanks to the first amendment and how it continued the long arc of dogma challenged by new thought.  This lead to the realization that the westward expansion of heresy intensified in the  atmosphere of freedom and pioneer energy found on the frontier.  So, when we end up in Minnesota, the presentations show how religious freedom and the rolling dialectic not only manifest themselves here, but in fact gain strength and intensity.

    Finally, that lead to a desire to push the dialectic one step further, beyond the bland everything’s in bounds soup of current day Unitarian-Universalism to the articulation of a new heterodoxy, one opposed to the dogma of one size fits all faith-lite.  This piece is the unwritten one at this point.

  • More Radical Than Thou

    80  bar falls 29.66  0mph E  dew-point 76!  sunrise 5:55  sunset 8:43  Summer

    Waning Crescent of the Thunder Moon

    Jerry Stearns sent word that he worked with rebels in Central America and served a stint as a bodyguard for Rigoberta Minchu, the Mayan activist.  This reminded me, though I don’t think it was his intent, of the old game, More Radical Than Thou.

    This was a game of gotcha and it drove the Everything Matters part of the personal is political.  If I, say, was a draft resister and an anti-war marcher, you might say that you planned to go to Canada.  If I planned to go Canada, you might say you were going underground.  If I said I was going underground, you might say, me too, but I’m going to bomb federal buildings, too.  This macho ratcheting up of the stakes in a round of how far can you travel away from middle-class morality and conventional politics lasted for a long, long time.

    It was an aspect of movement politics in which I always felt one step behind, never quite outré enough.  I was back then, as now, stuck with this dipolarity, radical and conservative, both alive and well, never reconciled, perhaps irreconcilable. Come to think of it this same dipolarity might have been the tense spring that kept me going back to the bar for one more round.

    Nowadays I cherish this peculiarity.  I can engage radical environmental politics, continue in my radical analysis of American society while loving the MIA and my docent role there.  I can continue opposition to conservative politics while loving the classics, poetry and faith traditions.  These two poles now serve as a creative edge for me, a sort of tectonic junction where volcanoes are born and subduction feeds the volcano.  Back then I felt the need to exist on only one end of the pole, rather than embracing the tension that came from them.

    More Radical Than Thou pushed me to one end of the pole.  I ended up denying, repressing the conservative part of me that wandered art museums, read Ovid and Homer and yearned for a connection with God.  Seminary and a stint as a Presbyterian minister only reversed the pressure.  While I could affirm my love of biblical study and prayer, I felt constant pressure to be more radical, to engage in more and more radical political activity.   This change from one end of the see-saw to the other was no resolution either.

    Only now, in these days when the introvert has settled into a quiet writing existence have I begun to live from both ends of the dialectic.  I can work as a docent amongst the fascinating details of art history while I the Sierra Club work blossoms.  I can write novels while I search nature and the American literary tradition for a pagan faith relevant to today.  Though the Jungian analysis moved far along this ancient trail, only unconditional love can heal these splits and I have found such love in Kate. We are soulmates.