• Tag Archives individual
  • The Problem of Competing Versions of the Truth

    Samain                                 Moon of the Winter Solstice

    Colds.  Yeccchhh.  Feels like another one coming on.  In the list of things to consider when theodicy is under issue, colds would be at the top of my list.  If God created a good world, why does it have the cold virus?  Or, yes, if you want to be more to the point, cancer or blood clots or the human propensity toward violence.

    Some people, read religious fundamentalists of all stripes, believe moral relativism, occasioned by secular humanist cynics or their equivalents, lies at the root of all social ills.  If people would just learn the commands of:  the Koran, Jesus, Hinduism, laissez-faire capitalism, Marxism, and FOLLOW them, then all the speed bumps and wild curves of history would iron out and we could get down to the smooth, orthopraxic life God or Allah or Vishnu or Adam Smith or Karl Marx intended.

    Without even delving into the particulars expected by each fundamentalist group, we can see immediately one of the chief problems with fundamentalism.  They can’t all be right.  In other words if the absolute tenets of, say, strict Calvinism and Wahabi Islam conflict, who’s got the right answer?  Marx or Smith?  Vishnu or the Pentecostal Christian?  To make the absolute claim, which does soothe the believer with apparent predictability, you also lay yourself open to the catastrophic consequences of error.

    Instead, colds come into the human body because the evolutionary process has created this dance between viral entities and,  in our case, mammals.  In the dance the virus hunts for a home with all the elements it needs to survive and reproduce.  The mammal’s body, as that home, tolerates its presence if it doesn’t throw things too out of whack, when it does.  Bam.  The body’s shock troops go into action.

    Is the virus bad?  No.  It just is.  Is our body’s response good?  Well, to us as an organism, bent on survival, yes, but, in the ongoing dynamics of life, no, even our body’s response just is.

    In the same wise human acts of all kinds can be judged according to criteria so certain, so dogmatic that they can be determined bad or good, sinful or salvific.  Trouble is, if you step outside that zone of certainty, then the same act may change its colors.

    Spare the rod and spoil the child is a good example.  In some fundamentalist Christian groups this dictum is taken as holy writ. This type of fundamentalist certainty is the one clear correlation with both child and domestic abuse.  Abuse is the evaluation of others outside the circle of fundamentalist dogma.

    This difficulty becomes even more trenchant, and even more pertinent, when we look from culture.  In the US and the West in general individual human rights trump collective decisions.  That is, genocide such as that carried out by the mercenaries of Moammar Qadafi, though state sanctioned, violated the human rights of those who resisted his government.

    In the East though human rights themselves are seen as collective, that is, the good of the whole comes before the individual.  This belief gets its strongest support in the traditional Asian family structure where each family members lives so as to strengthen the whole family.

    We in the West see this submersion of the individual in the larger whole as crushing liberty and freedom, the East sees us as leaning toward the irresponsible, selfish.  We tend to act in our  own self interest rather than the interest of the community, so our parents can’t count on us in their old age.  Even our children can’t count on us in our old age.  At least some of the time.

    So, who’s got the right of it?  One perspective says the right of it depends on location.  If you’re in the West, then the path of individual improvement and progress is right.  If you’re a contemporary Roman Catholic, then abortion is wrong and heterosexuality is good.

    Another perspective, one I hold, acknowledges the multiplicity of perspectives and sees the dialectical truths often illuminated by the conflicts between and among ethical systems as productive for our overall advance.  More on this later.  Gotta go sign a refinance document.



  • How Are We?

    Lughnasa                                     Waning Harvest Moon

    In preparation for my presentation, Spiritual Resources for Humanists, I have come across two mentions of a critique of Enlightenment thought’s emphasis on individualism.  In one instance the critique compares Western individualism with the more integrated person of Taoist thought, one with the Tao, or with the more communal sensibility of the East in general.  In another instance individualism lies at the root of contemporary nihilistic ideas.  Life’s a bitch, then you die.

    These two critiques I know now only in their casual clothes, not in their full dress argument though I intend to hunt them down as I work.  My first instinct is to bristle, to lean into the obvious benefits of individualism:  creativity, activist politics, a chance to flourish as an individuals gifts and dreams suggest, personal liberty.  My second instinct is to note that even the most individualistic of philosophical stances cannot extricate a person from family, from socialization, from nation, from history.

    Then, once my bristles lie back down and I quit pawing the earth, I move to a possibility that neither the more communal and integrated inflection nor the individually inflected position has it right, that the reality is more dynamic, at some times we Westerners are as communal and familial as the East while at other time the individuality of an Easterner comes to the fore, both depending on the particular situation, era, motivation.

    This is all before I sit down to think about it.  At first I defend my intuitive position, then I ameliorate and finally I move to the dialectic.  All without benefit of much reflection or introspection.

    That comes next.

  • A Bit More on the Humanities. OK, Maybe a Lot More

     Winter    Waxing Wild Moon

    I reproduce part of a David Brooks column here because it relates to the humanities thread I began a few posts ago.  He seems to counterpoise the liberal education as defined by Harvard against the institutional life devoted to what I would call a vocation.  This seems wrong-headed to me on a number of fronts, not least that the liberal arts education received its birth within the church and there is not much more institutional a creature than the church.

    Vocation and its fit within an institution has been part of my life.  Ministry qualifies as one of the oldest professions, vocations, that exists.  Ordination confers upon you a responsibility to a particular institution, a responsibility defined by my Presbyterian vows to uphold the peace, unity and purity of the church.  The role of clergy specifically demands nurture of the institution and the tradition which it serves.  While in the Presbyterian church, I followed that vow with energy.

    Brooks does not speak of the demand within any vocation and the institution they support:  law, medicine, education, even journalism for the prophetic voice.  This voice recognizes that traditions, in order to survive, must live and in living they must be constantly weighed in the crucible of every day practice.  Sometimes they fall short; the rote learning of the nineteenth century has given way to  learner centered education.  The church’s ministry, previously open only to men now has women in equal to greater numbers.  Continue reading  Post ID 12221