Photo by Robert Phelps
12 February 2018
I’m Spiritual But Not Religious
I once had a colleague -- Fred was his name -- who was an outspoken advocate for benign nihilism. He believed we have a poor shot at making the best of a long, difficult stretch called “life.” Life, he mused with dreary mien, was just a series of aggravating experiences with boorish people, interspersed with pockets of bad luck.
To Fred, God and religion were humbug, but – contrarily -- he trumpeted his spiritual side. His grumpy bonhomie was littered with references to some invisible “Force;” he often sounded like a Jedi disciple of Obi-Wan Kenobi. He was, he insisted, spiritual but definitely not religious.
His casually-ribald rants against religion were seasoned with remarks promoting (what I called) his cosmo-psychism. He considered the universe to be a big consciousness which spread its powers hither and thither. The “Force” (whatever it was; he was not entirely sure) filled the void of space with mystic vibes, endowing crystals and wood nymphs with healing powers. He declared, with Oprah-like certainty, that the universe was awaiting to affirm us. But the idea of a Creator God who loves us, Who sent His Son to redeem us? Nonsense! Christian stuff and nonsense!! That’s the stuff of Christian myth. It was enough to be spiritual -- but not religious. Anyone who is a critical thinker can see that….. Right?
Fred insisted that religion was a power game, an intellectual trap, a cosmic joke perpetrated by Moses and a collective of religious bozos and prophetic manipulators. Religious faith was a mistake. It was foolish to invest one’s belief in anything or anyone but oneself. Belief in a personal God and churchly affiliations were distracting and delusional. He held to the motto, “Get what you can before the selfish people beat you to it.” The Virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity were comforting social notions, useful as long as they did not make demands on his time or compromise his business plan. Adults knew better, he insisted, especially critical thinkers like Fred.
He often said I was naïve to believe in a loving and personal God. We are all on our own. We have no need for, nor connection to, God or religion or, in the long run, to each other. This was obvious. Couldn’t I see it? He wasn’t cynical, just pragmatic. That’s the way the world works; that’s the way people are. Didn’t I agree?
At last I saw my opening -- and swooped in ….. and this is some of what I said.
Away I Went With Words
For starters, I pointed out to Fred that faith is a universal, unavoidable and essential daily experience. Every human being exercises some form of faith -- religious or secular, implicit or explicit, comfortably taken for granted or inter-mixed with anxiety. We live by faith a hundred times a day: faith in the dry cleaner to do his job, faith in the teachers who educate our children, faith in the folks who package the food we eat, faith in the doctors who tend and mend us. We set our alarm clock, assuming it will wake us on time. That’s an implicit act of faith, perhaps trivial but still relevant. We whiz up the freeway, steering a weighty vehicle at insane speeds and we think nothing of it. Why? Because we make an act of faith, perhaps unstated but still relevant, that our car won’t go haywire and result in catastrophe.
We make implicit acts of faith countless times each day as we drive or eat or drink, or whatever else we do. Human nature demands at least implicit acts of faith in varying degrees so we can find our way through the uncertainties of life. And when people break faith in harmful ways, many of us go to the law for redress and correction.
Acts of normal, unstated and unquestioned faith are constant and necessary. The weightier the issue, the more control we exert to assure our faith is not blindly given, that the elements are – as far as we can see – aligned in our favor, aimed at our desired outcome, planned and focused toward our goal.
Faith Is A Deep Need In Human Nature
Now, as I revved up, I reminded Fred that faith is our constant companion in life, our psychological and spiritual partner. It runs so deep within us that we rarely think about it or recognize its centrality. Faith is a balancing act between certainty and uncertainty. Faith buffers us against the fears and complexes which arise with contradictory experiences. Faith is such a normal and healthy part of life that we never think twice about it -- except when it involves religious belief in the mystery of God.
Be clear about this, I said to Fred: religious faith validates the fact that mystery is suited to human nature. Life is cloaked in impenetrable mysteries which exceed our rational powers. We do not really know much about ourselves, about our own motives; about our children or our families or our friends. Indeed, mystery runs throughout daily life. Secular faith alone (however benign) leaves us hanging in a state of needless uncertainty and unsettling ambiguity.
So, to get a meaningful handle on life, we customarily look to our personal experiences. That’s how we define our portion of reality. But our personal experiences are merely one view of the greater reality of Creation, which includes billions of other human beings. We all live within an incomprehensible universe. This fact compels even critical thinkers to acknowledge the evidence which says God is possible … nay, probable … nay, necessary as the Ultimate Reality beyond the secular, as the First of All Realities, as the Great Mystery.
By now, Fred was distracted and slightly annoyed ….. but I kept on.
Faith, I continued (as he ordered another beer), keeps life’s mysteries in balance. It helps even critical thinkers realize that the evidence for God's reality is His Creation. God is reflected everywhere: in the life we have been given, in the mind with which we think, in the heart with which we seek to do what is right, in our searching, restless souls. Many of us seek secular reassurance in the “Force.” Others seek our strength -- and our clarity -- in God’s mysteries, with the help of our religious faith.
Mystery, ambiguity, uncertainty: these remain part of human nature’s heritage, for all things are not open to us. That is why the ability to exercise faith in God and in one another is such a splendid gift – even for the critical thinkers amongst us.
Then I said to Fred that faith tells us we are better off -- and wiser -- to respect the yearnings of the heart and the hunger in the soul which tell us that belief in God makes so much sense. Moreover, religion rightly taught enriches whatever understanding we may actually achieve about God. Religion rightly lived eases the rough edges of mystery, the frustrations of ambiguity and uncertainty.
And, as our faith in God matures, we also recognize that the gift of wisdom provides us with further insight beyond secular knowledge. Religion wisely held engages both the soul and the heart of human nature, helping the mind see its limitations, to realize that God’s revelation is not confined to the man-made categories favored by critical thinkers.
Simple Thinkers And Humble Thoughts
Then I reminded Fred that no matter how well we prepare, how thoroughly we think it through, how assiduously we plan and how energetically we endeavor to achieve our desired outcome, there is always -- always -- possibility of error, of something going wrong, of plans going awry, of people disappointing us, of loss and unforeseen disaster. Even with utmost caution, an act of faith inevitably involves vulnerability and risk, however minor they may be.
And when life does go wrong and dreadful things happen to us or to our loved ones, then do the vague and meandering roots of nihilism (however benign) seem parched and vacuous. Then do the chic banalities of nihilism (however benign) seem insubstantial. Then must we look behind the painful events to religious faith, there to recognize that God, our Creator and Redeemer, is beyond all, within all, enfolding us in dire times.
Then – in the midst of pain and loneliness -- can we draw upon the courage and perseverance which religious faith in God provides. For only religious belief reveals to our needy selves the reality of God Who exceeds all mystery and uncertainty and ambiguity.
Then do we wisely embrace the difficult but abiding message of religious faith: that beyond our pain and wonderment and unknowing, the promise of God’s peace awaits; a promise which only our refusal can extinguish.
The Gift Of Simplicity
Fred agreed that my views are common these days. Denial of God's sovereignty is the regnant outlook, especially in many influential academic, media and political circles, where burnished skepticism, jaunty arrogance, rejection of Creation’s mysteries and disdain for tradition are de rigueur. Hubristic subjectivity, a slapdash deluge of political correctness and rootless relativism compete with the gift of wisdom which ennobles humility and celebrates simplicity. Faith’s insightful wisdom begins when we know what we do not know, when we cease pretense and then accept our status as God’s fallible, faltering creatures.
Wisdom which faith imparts is slow to arrive for most of us, mainly because it requires of us growing humility. This involves letting-go of our self-centered demands for ego-gratification and our turning away from our addiction to being right about everything.
Finally, I told Fred that many people never really feel wisdom’s early, gentle nudges, never recognize wisdom’s quiet whispers in the soul, never really learn to listen to wisdom’s voice which so often challenges the limits of their critical precincts.
But when we are truly honest, I said to Fred, we human beings cannot help but realize that all knowledge is fleeting, all facts changing, all creation in flux … but many of us miss the redemptive realizations that God is Unchanging and that Faith, Hope and Charity are the markers of God’s wisdom in us.
When I finished, my colleague Fred glumly studied the stains on his beer glass, then asked cheerily how the Fighting Irish were doing that season.
6 February 2018
The Lesser Angels Of Our Nature
“E pluribus, unum” was the original motto of the United States of America, proposed in 1776 by Jefferson, Adams and Franklin. It means, “...from many, one...” It referred to the belief that “America” is both an ideal and a reality, defined by our ability to meld differences into a unified citizenry. Freedom meant the ability to seek unity and live according to the rule of law, without fear or undue coercion. Differences were the starting point of this unifying reality … but unity as a people was the end and purpose of America as a nation.
Our Hopes For Our Leaders
I reside a continent away from Washington, D. C. Still, neither distance nor distraction buffers me – or anyone else – from the endless stream of conflicting opinions and brittle conflicts which clutter the business of governing our nation.
One theme seems to predominate contemporary political life: antipathy. Antagonism seems to be the staff of life for the ideological burghers who rule in our nation’s capital. Surely, there is much good -- or some -- to be found in many of these men and women who hew out the laws of our land. After all, we trusted them sufficiently to elect them to lead and govern us. We chose them to represent our nation’s best interests which, hopefully, have some common ground.
We hope these elected officials and their appointed colleagues are patriotic people, graced with reasonable intelligence. We hope they believe in America’s need to stay strong in this precarious, bellicose world of ours.
We hope they possess moral probity, and are endowed with a working measure of practical wisdom befitting all leaders.
We hope they believe America is a country founded on the principle that our Constitutional freedoms are God-given, not man-made. We hope they do not believe the state is the most qualified judge of what is best for us.
We hope they see our freedoms as inherent in human nature and, therefore, subject to both legal and moral judgments based on the rules of law and of God.
We hope they will legislate for the common good and are not slavishly addicted to the twisted pragmatics of vote-getting. We hope they debate their differences with reasoned restraint, facts and logic.
We hope they recognize that a moral vision is essential for the stability and cohesion of any human community.
We hope for all this from our leaders … but so often these days, our hopes seem in vain. So often, it seems our leaders scramble furtively into accusatory denial, lest some truth – some biting truth – be known.
Disappointed For Many Reasons
So often, our hopes are upturned, our standards ignored. Ideologies too often obscure concern for facts and attention to history. Issues give way to pre-ordained agendas, and political expediencies become ascendant. Respect for moral principles and stable traditions dissolve into grubby chicanery.
Discourse becomes petty and coarse, and we are subjected to pretentious monologues littered with calumny and detraction – even manipulative lies.
Truth is far too often treated as political playdoh, squeezed into partisan fantasy, pummeled beyond recognition, pressed into the service of repetitive falsehoods, demeaned in ways which dash our trust and diminish our freedoms -- and weaken America.
We witness breakdowns of communication at the highest levels of governance. Eventually, balance is abandoned and good will strangled.
Then is our government divided by partisan priorities, by avoidable fiscal conflicts, by legislative paralyses and by moral chaos.
Then does healthy debate descend into a game of “Gotcha.” Exaggeration o’erwhelms facts; belittlement of the opposition becomes the norm.
Then are our expectations deflated as cynicism taints the credibility of our legislators and our media.
Then do our hopes give way to disgust at the words and behavior of so many in whom we trusted.
Then do our disappointment and aggravation remind us all-too-vividly that some leaders are, in fact, unreliable; motivated more by personal animosity and hostility for their opponents than by simple courtesy, moral idealism or lasting commitment to the common good.
Wonderment And Fragile Reassurances
But there is an up-side to all this: our aggravation should also serve as a reassuring sign to us that our standards still exist, that we do indeed expect much from those who hold our sacred trust, that despair at their antics has not overcome our hopes and ideals.
Furthermore, we can always find remediation at election time and vote the miscreants out of office. That is always a healthy impulse which tells us that our Constitutional system does work … if we work the system.
In the meantime, some of us are still driven to wonder how certain politicians can, with straight faces, stand before us and utter the shallow incongruities and gossamer fallacies which they customarily utter.
It appears that repetition and applause from adherents has the mesmerizing power to normalize the plethora of half-truths which some politicians regularly spout. Their spewing of standardized absurdities no longer startles anyone, especially the subservient portion of the media which roots out – or itself creates – personal scandals and abuses of power, as if these were treasured truffles.
As one listens to the blather of certain political figures, one is drawn to the idea that these politicians have honed the rhetoric of irrationality to such a fine edge that incoherence now replaces shame, confounds common sense, stifles the speaker’s self-respect and triggers cheers where a querulous, incredulous silence should reign.
For example, when a leading political personage such as Representative Pelosi describes the opposition’s ideas as “a bowl of doggy-doo with a cheery on top,” any reasoning adult would be taken greatly aback … not only at the speaker’s inept imagery but at the moral state of public discourse which finds such repulsive statements acceptable and normal and worth a moment’s note.
Troubles To The Soul
One could, with not much effort, detail a litany of similar outrageous -- and inane -- commentaries by a host of public officials.
One might start with the self-serving tweets of our sitting President, whose agenda has regularly included embarrassing ad hominem swipes and personal invective … to what effective outcome for our nation is still uncertain.
By the same standard, one cannot ignore (nor is one meant to ignore) the excesses of Representative Maxine Waters, whose repetitive condemnations of our President are made auspicious by their audaciously degrading nature. One must explore history to find a stream of consciousness as bluntly insulting as are the public statements of Rep. Waters when she speaks about our President. Restraint is foreign to her public persona. Her comments are harshly personal, deliberately degrading, gratuitously demeaning, yet widely accepted and, often, enthusiastically applauded.
Her relentless negativity is truly startling, but she is, by no means, the only elected person who speaks with unfiltered vitriol, to the pleasure of lauding crowds.
American Is Lessened By Such Behavior
The cumulative impact of such behavior on the American scene is that we are lessened as a nation and as people. Our collective intelligence and our moral acuity are demeaned by the absence of self-restraint and by the imprudent, incautious comments of our leaders.
The lack of common decency which characterizes so much public rhetoric by our elected officials makes America weak from within. As we attack one another with such vehemence, we gradually destroy our own future, normalize divisiveness and degrade the purpose of political life, i.e., the solidity and strength of our nation.
In addition, the rancid polarization of political life now substitutes for governance in America. Our current political and moral divisions present us with a further stage in the gradual but ongoing erosion of our internal stability. Political instability threatens us as a union of separate states and as a people who hold – or once held – common ideals and revered a shared sense of honor.
How indeed can we respect those who seem to have forgotten that “e pluribus, unum” is not intended as a witness to diversity and conflict but as an affirmation of our nation’s unity and strength.
How can we respect those leaders who have lost sight of what they should do for us all – leaders who have forgotten that politics originates in the reality of the polis, of the people’s common good?
Respect for those who divide us is increasingly difficult, to say the least. What recourse remains?
Let us remember that November 6, 2018 is not that far off.
29 January 2018
An Elder Ponders The Question:
Why Do We Seek To Live
Cecile Richards announced her retirement this week as President of Planned Parenthood (PP); this, after a dozen years leading America’s largest “life-saving” (her words) abortion provider.
One might (churlishly, to be sure) question whose lives PP has saved during Ms. Richard’s militant presidency … and at what obvious cost?
But let’s move on……………….
From a financial perspective, Ms. Richards has been an effective financial producer. PP’s recent 2016-2017 annual report lists an income of $1.46 billion, a record. But more than half-a-billion dollars of American taxpayer money goes to PP each year. That’s about $1.5 million each-and-every day; a third of PP’s revenue stream comes from our taxes.
People who support the abortion ethos espoused by PP’s culture of death have the anomalous satisfaction of knowing that the organization performed 321,384 abortions in 2016. That’s almost 900 children aborted each and every day. This number is testament to Ms. Richards’ energetic “life saving” mission of aborting children. This number of children aborted seems to enliven those who exalt abortion as a declaration of women’s freedom, as essential health care -- or something like that.
Many of us have an entirely different view than PP’s morally nihilistic approach to children and birth and life. And, in all truth, our hearts are sickened and our souls deeply saddened by PP’s commitment to abortion. But this is made worse by the perverse corporatization of abortion for profit and as a legal excuse for the destruction of innocent lives.
I am of that brand of believing Catholics who are firmly convinced that children are - or ought to be - the natural overflow of love between a man and woman who are husband and wife.
People who believe as I do see children as gifts from God, deliberately sought by faithful, loving parents who want to bring children into this life’ parents who, together, celebrate and embrace these little ones as desired of heart and soul; parents who see children as gifts to be treasured and enfolded in the love of family.
We believe that, from conception, all children possess lives of value and dignity, lives as precious as one's own. We believe parenting is a profound vocation, fraught with personal sacrifices and unexpected challenges and unaccountable risks and disquieting conflicts – all of which are willingly sought and gladly accepted with determination, seasoned by a sense of humor at the unquenchable, not-to-be-missed madness of family life and the antic oddities of those we love (not to mention our own quirky preferences which are, to be sure, the desirable norm).
My generation does not consider children political pawns nor do we define children as disposable undesirables, discarded as we discard withered leaves from a tattered scrapbook.
We believe making personal sacrifices for ourselves and for others is a normal, healthy part of being an adult. Giving of one’s time and attention, and changing one’s life in order to be generously available and involved in the lives of our children are not merely desirable behaviors. They are primary goals of every loving parent’s life.
Planned Parenthood’s advocates will counter by telling us that children demand sacrifices. Of course; they always do. Children also bring pain and cause great inconvenience! Certainly; they always do. Well, parenting is a heavy burden!! Indeed so; it always is.
Facing these challenges is the point of being an adult. gladly and willingly accepting opportunities to love a child as the essence of parental life. Oddly, these simple truths seem lost on the PP mentality. For PP, even adoption is an extreme.
But let’s move on …………………………….
How PP Resolves Pregnancy
According to PP’s report, abortion accounted for 96% of their “pregnancy resolution services.” Prenatal services took up 2.3%. Miscarriage care took up 0.4%. Adoption referrals merited 1.2% of their service endeavors.
Read that again: For every adoption referral in 2016, PP performed more than 82 abortions. Let that sink in for a moment. 82 to 1.
Again, one is challenged to wonder what “life saving” services Ms. Richards has in mind. Indeed, one wonders what definition of “life” Ms. Richards propounds? That questions prompts one to wonder what sort of moral vision abides in the minds of Ms. Richards and her many abortion adherents.
Perhaps people in the highly lucrative business of taking the lives of children do not consider the infant-targets of their abortion “services” humans in any sense. No rational adult could possibly promote abortion and still think of these countless infants as persons of any worth or any God-given value or any human dignity.
But let’s move on …………………………..
Embryos Are Alive
Perhaps Ms. Richards’ adroit inclusion of PP’s “life-saving” activities rests on the belief that the union of a man’s sperm and a woman’s egg produces nothing more than a clump of bothersome cells which are useless, directionless, with no purpose or goal other than to cause trouble or inconvenience.
Human life begins at the instant of conception – as science will attest in a moment. In fact, science now reveals to us -- and to PP -- that every child’s journey in life is inaugurated by Nature at the very instant of her conception.
Nature instantly leads the child into various stages of her development, all of which are directed toward that universal event -- birth – that moment of self-presentation which all children pursue.
PP enthusiasts routinely object that the clump of bothersome cells - the early embryo or fetus - does not look or act like a human being (whatever that may mean). The embryo, they claim, is merely a bothersome clump of cells from which the host – or mother - wishes to be relieved. Lots of doctors and judges and movie stars a whole bunch of smart people all agree: abortion is fine and legal and praiseworthy and not a problem… not a problem. Even leading politicians from one of our political parties (morally errant “Catholics” among them) stand up for a woman’s right to be rid of the clump of bothersome cells, or the bothersome clump of cells … or whatever it is they routinely condemn.
In addition, Ms. Richards has made a career out of persuading America that abortion for any reason is a soothing addition to women’s freedom and is an essential part of women’s health care.
What is not clear to many of us is how abortion-on-demand or PP’s sale of the body parts of aborted children is related to a woman’s Constitutional rights or her medical needs.
Churlish questions, I know … so let’s move on……….
Facts Challenge Honest People
The facts are these:
In 2016 University of Cambridge Physiology research teams (consult recent research by Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz and Ana Maria Dumitru) discovered that self-directed growth and goal-oriented movement occur in a zygote (the woman’s sperm-fertilized egg, the early embryo) from the instant of conception. Instantly, human movement and growth and development begin. Goal-directed behavior begins. Human life begins.
Once an egg is fertilized by a sperm, the resulting early embryo (zygote) then divides several times, generating a small, free-floating ball of stem cells (we will not go into the significance of stem cells, profound components of human life and growth).
Then, around the third day, these stem cells gather inside the embryo in a process known as the blastocyst.
The blastocyst, made up of three types of cells, is already revealing a pre-set program for the embryo. Here are the steps in that program which Nature has established and sets in motion without prompt from the child’s mother.
- Some cells will develop into the child’s body; these form the ‘epiblast.’
- Other cells will develop into the child’s placenta and allow the child to attach herself to the mother’s womb.
- Finally, a third group of cells coordinate the development of all bodily organs and provide essential nutrients.
All this, from a “bothersome clump of cells.”
A Human Being, Young and Growing
The process of human growth and development has begun – and the child moves inexorably toward birth and life and the delights and challenges of living. The fact that all this occurs before the child has even implanted herself onto her mother’s uterus is, to believers, astonishing.
Given all this, one must, yet again, wonder why PP and Ms. Richard would have it otherwise? Why is the destruction of any child seen as a human “right” or as a universal health care issue or as politically correct behavior? Why should a single abortion be subsidized by the taxes of those of us who find the entire abortion ethos beyond barbaric?
The Challenges of Living
Planned Parenthood’s arguments for abortion include condemnation of heartless, uncaring persons who ignore or downplay conditions such as rape, incest, Down’s Syndrome and a catalog of wretched medical and family situations which, they insist, justify a woman’s right to destroy the child within, the unwanted child within her.
No one can possibly be blind to, or unmoved by, the myriad of debilitating human conditions and sad outcomes of pregnancies gone wrong. The suffering of others touches the empathy of all decent people. Some childhood illnesses and medical problems assuredly test the limits of human tolerance, challenge medical knowledge and technology, and push people to the brink of despair.
Abortion’s supporters insist that we all deserve to be happy, to be free of life’s undue baggage, not to be burdened with a child whose medical or emotional problems and financial costs will be a load for parents and family and in-laws and educators and medical people. They do not speak of the cost to the child whose life is taken.
Other who resist abortion say that challenges and travail and discontent and discomfort and sacrifice are the essential ingredients of every life. These are the conditions which ignite creativity in medicine and family and society.
The Struggle For Happiness
We are also wise to remember that happiness has nothing to do with ease or comfort or lack of challenge or freedom from burden or absences of pain and stress.
The choice to love others with benevolence and the gift to be loving -- these are the highest ideals of human life. They are best sides of humankind - but they are always tied to pain, always entwined in sacrifice and fatigue and moments of dispirited uncertainty behind which, happiness may await. There is no true happiness which is unmerited, no true happiness which does not rest, first of all, on contentment of soul and peace of heart and a conscience put right.
Human life always involves a personal plunge into the unknown. Life’s constant condition is ambiguity; it is only within that persistent, bedeviling context that varieties of happiness -- some fleeting, some utterly profound -- can ever be discovered. And we know that abortion brings only death, with ensuing misery and guilt to so many women and men who seek some misguided ease through its grim, toxic release.
So ………. if we are called by God and Nature to love one another – as we are; and if we are called by God and Nature to love one another especially in family – as we are; then we are equally and always called to pay life’s personal price for our loving and for our being loved – especially by our children.
If loving one another is the true goal of living, then securing the death of those who depend so totally upon us is not --- and never will be --- an acceptable avenue to our God-given gifts of life and love.
God tells us so.
Nature tells us so.
Can we not listen and hear and take heed -- and let our children live?
If not now, when?
23 January 2018
The Search And The Meaning
I have a friend who recently admitted to me that he is bewildered by his life, burdened by nagging depression and the absence of consolation, kept awake by doubts about himself and his value as a man, a father and a husband. He has slight evidence of God’s care for him, and no sense of God’s benevolence in his life. He rarely feels an emotional high any more. He is plagued with unruly skepticism and finds a yawning vacuum in his soul where Faith and Hope are meant to dwell.
His middle years are increasingly unsettling. His faith is now faint and fading, driven into a far, dark niche where he is too fatigued to go. Worst of all, he added, he has doubts about God’s very existence.
Then my friend asked what I thought about all this.
Time For Candor
Were I a younger man, less familiar with the weight and tenacity of such a spiritual quandary, I might have offered him a wan smile while I hemmed-and hawed, asking myself, “What can I possibly say to this man. How can I help this man?”
Truth be told, I am indeed familiar with his plight, as is every honest believer whose search for Faith is not glibly based on Sunday’s hymn-singing and whose Hope is not without price or test.
So, I responded candidly to my friend, admitting that I, too, have carried the same weary uncertainties often enough in my lengthy years. I told him I have had head-scratching bouts of doubt. And I told my friend that wrestling with the clouded side of my often-frustrated heart has also given me some soul-sustaining insights which I want him to consider.
I have, I told him, learned several personal truths. Here are a few, for starters.
- God does not act on our terms to meet our wants or soothe our wishes. Indeed, God seldom acts in ways we would dictate, were we in charge.
- So, obviously, God does not part the waves nor speak from burning bushes any longer. In real life, the drama of the miraculous has been replaced by the muted graces of the mundane.
- As a rule, therefore, I expect God to remain inconveniently secretive, without fanfare, rarely a’bubble with emotional consolation. But let us not miss the obvious, because His presence among us is downright obvious – if we look and then see – recognize - what is already at hand.
- The fact is that God chooses to reveal Himself everywhere we look. God reveals Himself everywhere in the details of creation and in the nuances of daily life. God is here, quietly, steadily, inherently embedded in us.
- When these truths are lost to us, whenever the weight of doubt and anxiety drags us down -- or we reject the obvious and lose our common sense, then it’s time to seek a trusted soul to talk to. The burdens of life are not meant to be carried alone. Relationships are essential.
- Our ego, our arrogance and our narcissistic romance with ourselves lure many of us into denial and avoidance. We justify our reliance on these barriers, and we avoid hard personal truths because we are, at heart, afraid of these truths, fearful of seeing the work we have to do.
- Thus, we stifle insight and reject personal wisdom. Thus, we flee from those virtues which are meant to speed us on to maturity. Thus, we establish barriers against our best interests.
- Spiritual maturity calls for humility of heart, generosity of spirit and the courage to face our needy selves and our errant egos.
The Freedom Of Uncertainty
Easy for me to say, I suppose. I am older; I have had time to hash out, kick around and weigh the evidence that God is active amongst us. I am old enough to realize that it is us, not God, who has work to do in this life.
Surely it is difficult for many people -- such as my wounded but healing friend -- to accept the reality that God speaks not with thunderous voice but in the routine, often discomforting, complexities of daily life.
God’s voice is not loud, but it is constant. We hear it in the sounds and movements of Nature. We hear it in the presence of others around us. And we hear God’s voice especially in the challenges - and consolations - of our relationship with life all around us, starting with our own lives, with the mystery of who we are, and how we are ... and what we are.
God is Mystery --- and so are we…. and it is the very mystery of life itself which must enliven our gratitude that we are alive to think and wonder and seek.
God is life itself. His language is so common and repetitive that we regularly miss the sameness of His presence. We miss the endearing rhythms of His routine revelations, the customary components of His ineffable, mysterious Life – a share of which He has given to us.
Sounds good … to a point … but to a teetering soul (or anyone else), these ideas beg to be explored.
A Look At The Kindly Unknown
One fact we often miss, I told my friend, is that God works in normal, often humdrum, ways. But these apparently normal ways are also radically ennobling and potentially consoling -- if we allow them to be, if we accept the inherent nobility of life and the power to choose virtue over despair.
We err when we assume that we -- precious bundles of joy that we are -- should always be immune from harsh experiences in life. We should not be touched by difficult, strenuous, painful, frightening events which are beyond our control. We should not suffer; indeed, a good God would not let anyone suffer.
Whatever wonderment we have about God’s ways, whatever doubts we may experience, whatever spiritual ennui or anxiety of soul we may undergo, whatever anger or rejection we may toss back at God in retaliation for His seeming indifference, our lives are never out of God’s Hands.
We may shout and pout. stomp and wail. God hears all and remains God, i.e., the Mystery who sustains us, despite our attempts to withdraw or alienate or dispel the very thought of His Being.
We may resent His failure to prevent pain and loss, may curse him and deny Him for His tolerance of evil … then say He does not exist and, in doing so, make ourselves feel better – but His Mystery prevails. He is God and we are His, still His.
Somehow -- in ways which are known only to God -- we are ever in His keeping, even when He is silent to us, even when we are plagued with doubt and burdened with mean, angry thoughts; even when the clouds of our weariness hover heavily and life is sprinkled with incessant travail; even when uncertainty and negativity prevail; even then, God is at hand. Even then, God is with us … and our lives are His and all the earth, His Creation, is His.
The Familiar Unknown
Then I reminded my friend that Mother Teresa, of all people, spent her entire adult life in precisely such a state of doubt as we undergo. Her "secret" was not her spiritual superiority or her conspicuous holiness. Her “secret” was her guts-it-out perseverance, her simple human tenacity, even when she was riddled for decades with the deepest doubts, even when she was burdened by doubts about God's existence.
Her perseverance took the form of rote Faith and she slowly matured within the routines of her daily life. She went tenaciously through the motions of prayer and endured the spiritual dryness of empty meditations for decades, all the while experiencing no consolation or uplift.
Why was tedious constancy and persistence so crucial for her? Why are these so crucial for us?
Because these routines of our lives are the stuff of reality for us. They are the ingredients of our lives. Honoring each moment, year after year, was Mother Teresa’s simple way of living out her commitment in her relationship with God ... and all the small but crucial details that such a commitment entails. And so must we live. So, too, is God with us.
A commitment to a relationship is most often a demanding act of the will, stretching over decades, testing our soul’s depth and our character and our sense of personal honor and dignity. Living our commitments defines us and ennobles our very life. It is the foundation of our identity.
Mother Teresa’s “secret” was really her commitment to love God and his suffering creatures as best she could – even if her Beloved God seemed fickle and elusive and hard to reach and distant and, at times, uncaring about those to whom He had given life. She persevered. She persevered in her attempts to love and attend to wounded souls in her daily life. She stayed the course -- and so must we.
She persevered. So must we.
Relationship Means Perseverance
Perseverance. This is what commitment means in a relationship: to stay with it, loving the Beloved as best we can, even when we feel like fleeing. We persevere; we pay the price which love always asks in the long run. We sustain our side of the relationship with God and His creatures as best we can, no matter what … even when others do not.
The good news is that our relationship with God has a true and constant basis beyond our weary selves.
God is the driving force in our relationship with Him, not us. Even when we doubt ourselves; even when we waver and are emotionally drained, God is constant and steady and trustworthy. His word is a given, His friendship constant. His relationship with us is unwavering, even when pain and isolation eclipse every other awareness.
How long do we put up with all this, especially when we are fearful and doubting? What does God expect? It sometimes eases our question to realize that Mother Teresa spent more than forty years to finally come to terms with this revelation, but only because she persevered.
Watch Out For Emotions
I told my friend that recurring feelings of alienation are not alien for us humans. Our insistent sense of emotional distance from God is not an indication that God is distant from us.
BUT ……………………. the inevitable tug-of-war between our thinking and our feelings is our weakest link, so let our Faith and our Hope be sustained by our reason, not by our emotions.
Believing, even when we are in doubt, is a choice of our will and intellect, not of how we feel.
Perseverance does not rely on feelings. It is a rational commitment which does not demand or rely on emotional consolation. It is a commitment which we make because it makes sense. Constancy is a deliberate choice, not a feeling.
Our best intentions can be side-tracked by our strong feelings of loss or absence or emptiness or need or fear or loneliness. Our internal dispositions often have to exist side-by-side with nagging doubt.
True, soothing feelings can be helpful. But when we rely too much on feelings, our fragile emotions can weaken our commitment when they falter, can bring us down, debilitate us, cast shadows over our choices, fog our clarity, create deeper doubt, sap our convictions, render us to self-pity, seduce us into victimhood. And the resulting doubt can delude us into thinking that how we now feel is who we are.
When feelings let us down and self-doubt absorbs us, our emotions can then undermine our resolve and cripple our willingness to trust God and persevere.
Perseverance tells us that no emotion is more powerful than commitment, no traits more essential for us than generosity of spirit and humility of heart. We will have doubts, but let no feeling of doubt ever overshadow our choice to uphold our portion of this friendship and persevere.
The Choice To Endure
To persevere is to choose to go forward and to endure. We may burn out badly enough to ask God to stop all this, to let us out of it, to call it a day and be done with it. But then, after expressing our weariness, let us add that single phrase which still rings for us through history: "Not my will, but thine be done."
Doubt and wonderment come naturally to human nature, but faith in God does not come naturally. Having Faith and Hope in God is an act of the will, a choice we make to persevere … even though clarity is missing. Simply put, perseverance is work; we have to work at it. But that is what life is for……
And I told my friend that the best lesson I have learned is this:
Any relationship which has authentic meaning will take us through periods of darkness and doubt and the pain of ambiguity and the wonderment of God's silence.
Nothing of lasting value in this life comes to us except through some measure of pain, except through some period of aloneness, except through some test of our mettle, except through some challenge to our fidelity, except through our dogged persistence, except through our perseverance.
A Final Notion.
Finally, I said to my friend, I hope all this makes sense to you. For some people, it makes no sense at all. They prefer temporary, too-soon dwindling, rewards which dedicated egotism offers.
But for those who are willing to accept periods of doubt while remaining open and patient with God and one’s self, a measure of understanding eventually dawns. Eventually, we begin to see what is not obvious: that perseverance is actually more sustaining than clarity when we pursue our friendship with the Mystery of God. We understand that the key is not what happens to us but how we manage our reactions and how we choose to respond. It is not the events in our lives which define us. We do. We make the difference and persevere in trust.
All persons have doubt -- but not all persons have the insight and courage to persevere, then to believe and trust in our Creator, and to accept the reality that doubt is part of our journey to God.
God's ways are surely not our ways, but we grow in our awareness of God’s closeness to us when we awaken to the fact that God does indeed lead us in Mystery -- but always and everywhere with a steady, knowing hand.
My friend and I are still talking about all this. We talk together with earnestness and candor … and, now, we also talk with smiles as well as doubts. And we agree that our dialogue and our relationship are what it’s all about ….. and we are grateful to be in each other’s lives.
16 January 2018
Freedom From Religion:
Our American Heritage ?
Are the following few words offensive? Do they ruffle our sensibilities as citizens? Do they create a danger to our national security or violate our rights as Americans?
"Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country. Amen.”
In 1962 these few words moved the Supreme Court to rule (Engel v Vitale) that governments could neither sponsor nor endorse official prayer in public schools. This decision was occasioned by that one-sentence generic prayer above. The Court determined that the invocation to “Almighty God” by school officials was legally untenable, a violation of the First Amendment and henceforth forbidden.
These few words, addressed to a generic Deity, were of such provocation to a very few citizens that they filed suit against their children’s school district for allowing this prayer to be said by school officials. Their complaint was persuasive. The Supreme Court thereafter forbade any state government to “prescribe by law any particular form of prayer which is to be used as an official prayer in carrying on any program of governmentally sponsored religious activity.“
Public Education v God
As you can read, no particular religion was mentioned in this prayer. Saying the prayer was entirely voluntary. Nonetheless, the Court held that the prayer did indeed promote religion simply because it was said. Addressing God was/is unconstitutional in public school settings.
Justice Black added that this decision was not intended to be antireligious, merely to be a clarification of Jefferson’s comment about the separation between church and state (a division which is not found in the Constitution). “It is neither sacrilegious nor antireligious,” Black stated, “to say that each separate government in this country should stay out of the business of writing or sanctioning official prayers.“ Thus sayeth Black.
As we know, the issue is, by no means, that simple or clear cut – and never was. But the Engel precedent reverberates to this day. The decision has generated far greater problems than the conflict it supposedly settled. Prayer in certain venues is now the promotion of a collection of religions which recognize the amorphous deity known as “Almighty God.” That mere mention of God violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
No Public Prayer: The American Way
The Engel Decision soon gave rise to a series of further rulings which severely restricted prayer – and the right to pray - in public educational settings. Not surprisingly, the wording of this decision raised countless legal questions. Subsequent Court decisions have elaborated how far this separation of religion from education should go. And, not surprisingly, a cavalcade of unintended social and moral consequences has followed the conclusion that prayer in any American public school setting is a violation of the First Amendment.
But Wait, There’s More
Since the Engel Decision, a string of pronouncements by the Supreme Court narrowed and restricted any references to religion or attempts at prayer – even if the prayer was initiated by students.
The Ten Commandments are now forbidden to be displayed. Some school districts, to protect against litigation, even refuse to allow athletic coaches to pray with their teams. Sex education (sometimes graphic, disturbingly age-inappropriate and simply propagandistic) is, of course, part of many public school curricula across the country. Some districts even refer girls for abortions and birth control devices without parental knowledge or consent, citing the rights of minors promulgated in the Supreme Court’s Decision in Bellotti v Baird.
Bellotti Decision Opens Another Door
The Bellotti Decision and its multiple spawn have produced an outpouring of state and Federal regulations which widen adolescents' access to abortion and contraception --- sometimes without parental consent or knowledge. Indeed, the list of Federal and state “rights” which minors now possess is extensive. In some cases, these “rights” are morally abhorrent to parents who are often helpless before the vagaries of judicial decision-making or the moral vacuity of some judges.
The Cultural and Psychological Fallout
Engel, Bellotti and related Court decisions have had grave impact on America’s public morality, on our collective conscience and our attitudes toward life and family. The moral and psychological impacts on generations of young people -- now adults -- has wrought serious educational, social and political consequences for America.
Over the last half-century, generations of public school children have been subtly – and not so subtly – given the overt message that God and God’s Voice have no import in their lives, no central role in American culture, nothing to contribute to their development or maturity.
Perhaps the most pernicious cumulative, long-term result of these Court decisions has been an historical trend which has moved our nation away from a common touchstone of morality into a culture stripped of moral parameters. Even many churches no longer mention sin.
The ascendance of moral relativism in every area of national life is more than obvious. This exclusion of prayer has perforce also expunged the value of moral inquiry from the normal learning process. Over time, this exclusion has created in countless adults a dismissive, often hostile, attitude toward the primacy of morality and conscience in human affairs. Self-expression -- no matter what the human or social cost, or how bizarre the issue -- has replaced self-restraint as our national marker.
The cumulative effect has been to stifle the fundamental intellectual validity and vitality of moral inquiry as an essential component in a stable society for the maturity of citizens and for the content of their character.
Where Does Character Come From?
The necessity for a nation to be guided by accepted moral principles has been effectively obscured in the hearts and minds of generations of citizens. This denial of religion’s contribution to our national character and identity has significantly abetted the malaise we now face in a morally-rootless America.
In addition, one must wonder how any individual - or any nation - can effectively follow the path of wisdom when moral priorities are divorced from everyday life and learning. Clearly, a society is diminished when accountability to a source greater than oneself is treated as an afterthought, when moral responsibility and character are deliberately separated from the development of a child’s budding intelligence.
How About Home And Parents?
Many people believe religion is a personal, private matter. It ought not be taught or furthered in public schools. Religious belief is for the home and the church. Parents are supposed to do the moral and religious upbringing. Keep the schools secular.
That argument is counter-productive and self-defeating. The message is that what we learn at home has value only at home. At school, our religious beliefs are routinely de-valued and excluded. Religion is a private matter. In public, we can forget about it.
In truth, morality is a public issue because it involves behavior and consequences, right and wrong, good and evil. Every citizen is affected by the moral behavior of our leaders and our businesses and our schools and our government officials. We may differ about doctrinal content, about dogma and creed and theological variants --- but we cannot, and should not, ignore the demands and consequences of moral – and immoral -- behavior.
In the normal process of human development, religious beliefs are the font of public and private virtues which define moral behavior. Prayer is the affirmation of those beliefs, the expression of one’s religious self, the individual and the nation’s Declaration of Dependence. To deny the link between prayer and moral principles insults human nature, denies human need, injures the common good, violates common sense, short-changes the individual and profoundly weakens society.
No Common Principles Unite US
The problem our country now faces is that we have no shared definition of what is morally right or wrong any more, no sense of what moral behavior demands of all of us, no regard for the authority of God, the Author of morality. Non-judgmentalism rules; with it we now behold a vast ocean of moral anarchy -- and some of the most bizarre ideas and behaviors imaginable.
For example, is it moral to lie? Yes, if it gets votes and our agenda is triumphant……… right?
Is it moral to abort a living child? Well, the Supreme Court and some doctors and Planned Parenthood and a bunch of Hollywood stars say it is OK, so it must be OK .…. right? Is it moral for our media commentators to report half-truths and distortions, to assassinate the character of politicians they do not agree with? Yes, if it reflects the Party line, whatever that Party line may be …… right?
Is it OK for my teen-age child to have sex with some boy she likes, as long as they use “protection” and do not put naked photos of themselves up on Facebook? Yes, I suppose so, because everyone does it ……… right?
Is it moral for me to do whatever I want, to do what feels good when I want and with whom I want? Who’s gonna stop me? Morality is what I choose …. right?
Where Are We Going As A Nation?
The separation of religion’s moral insights from public education is now fully accomplished. It started from the top-down with the idea that prayer by government representatives is unconstitutional.
But that separation of religion and moral thinking from learning has not stopped ….. Generations of children have grown into adulthood, disabused of the idea that God and religion have any role in their lives. Many adults seem to get along just fine without a boring old god and stuffy old restrictive rules to cramp their style.
The loss of shared public morality and the absence of a shared public conscience are ailments from which our dystopic nation now suffers deeply. Vulgarity and disregard for human dignity are entrenched and, as we can see, our laws surely do not equate with wisdom.
Standards of public decency once set the limits to our behavior. These standards once bound Americans together as members of a God-centered society in which prayer united, rather than divided. Public morals represented the deepest values which mature members of the community held in common.
Not so today.
America’s historic exceptionalism is woefully in need of a moral awakening to mature self-restraint in our behavior, to humility in the face of technology, to respect for public virtues as the norm. Without regard for traditional virtues (both civic and religious virtues) and respect for the Creator of us all, healthy change for the better in the American public square is not likely.
Time Is Flexible But History Is Not
I agree that sunny optimism is always useful … but it wears thin and becomes counterfeit when history and reality tap us on the shoulder with repeated facts and unavoidable evidence. Then, the truths of the past, the value of lost traditions and the warnings of history-repeating-itself may become nags -- but nags essential for long-term survival.
Since God has become a stranger to our national identity, and morality is excluded from so much of our public behavior, one must wonder how long our democracy can bear such a toxic malaise -- or where we are headed as an historically unmatched but, nonetheless, errant nation?
Time – and history – will tell………………….
8 January 2018
Contemplating the Number 321,384
321,384….. What does this number mean to us?
If it refers to dollars in our pocket, nice!! If it tells us how many miles to the next restroom, bad news!! If it refers to people killed in an earthquake, it’s a terrible tragedy, especially for the helpless lives lost, the broken hearts of so many survivors; a tragedy which highlights our awareness that we humans have so little control over Nature ….. or perhaps we sometimes do have more control than we should, but use it most unwisely.
Life Is Ever So Precious
The older I grow, the more impressed I am by the beauty of life, by the precious value of each human being … and by the number of choices we really do have over our own beliefs, decisions and actions.
I am constantly made aware that we have choices about how we live and who we choose to be, about what values we choose to hold and about how we choose to behave. In fact, we can control many aspects of life, especially our own attitudes values, decisions and behavior. We are definitely not helpless.
Yes, Nature and Nature’s Creator will always be supreme. Therefore, Nature’s laws, limits and functions should guide our thinking, influence our choices and inform our actions. Still, Nature has given us the gift of life and the ability to think and to reason. Thus, we really do have a huge arena of choices about what good we will do - or will not do - with our lives.
The Gifts Of Life And Living
To me, each new sunrise is a starting point for awe and adoration. Each day is a new beginning filled with a panoply of choices.
Each new day is a chance to breathe Nature’s air, an invitation to see and to hear, to feel and – most importantly – to be with my loved ones, aware of the gifts of loving and being loved, aware of the struggle to be worthy of such goodness.
Each day is yet another invitation to embrace the responsibilities I have in life; a gracious chance to be immersed in the profound reality of life – in my life and in your life; an invitation for me to be in touch with the Author of such Life abundant.
Simply to be aware of life is ineffably rewarding and humbly confounding. To be made aware that our potential for kindness and goodness is always within our reach: this insight is quietly inspiring and, at the same moment, provocatively challenging. Life is truly a gift from Nature and Nature’s Creator. Each day is yet another opportunity for us to give and to share the blessings of our lives with others. Each and every life is a gift which is unearned, and not of our making; an extraordinarily precious and mysterious charism, a gratia gratis data, a gift freely given which is never the result of our own merit or achievement. It is a gift.
Our contacts with one another may be brief, but let us rejoice in our shared lives, for each moment in life is a lifetime; each moment is the time of our lives.
That Hovering Number 321,384
But there’s that nagging number 321,384 again. What more does this number refer to?
Planned Parenthood (PP) released its annual report this week. On page 31, that report reveals that PP performed 321,384 abortions in 2014.
321,384. That’s 321,384 babies who will never be held or fed by someone who loves them; babies whose gift of life, a gift from God, was taken away. That’s 321,384 human beings who, by someone else’s choice, will not sing funny songs nor bring smiles to the faces of loving parents by the sound of their laughter or the touch of their hands. 321,384 children destroyed, willingly, in our nation.
One must instantly ask: “Why?”
What threat to the life and liberty of the pregnant woman does a baby in her womb represent?
What was it about that child’s life which was so appalling or fearful as to merit its extinction?
One must also ask: “What moral vision or God-given sensibility allows, encourages and celebrates, the killing of children, even as they are being born into this world? What manner of moral reasoning or logic says that the choice to destroy a child is anything but profoundly wrong?”
The Glory That Is Planned Parenthood
The PP report is intended as testimony to the abundant and essential “medical” care the organization supplies our nation. The report enthusiastically plumps the number of services PP offers women and men. Birth prevention, sex education, mammograms, on and on. The report lists PP’s contributions to the betterment of our nation and the medical well-being of American womanhood. It proudly witnesses to PP’s further contribution to the more-than-fifty-million children killed by legal abortion since Roe v Wade was enacted in January 1973.
Reading the report closely, one realizes that for every single adoption referral, Planned Parenthood performed 81 abortions.
81 to 1. This ratio (at least, in my judgment) is a clear declaration of priorities. Abortion? Indeed so. Adoption? Are you serious?
Abortion is the unquestionable centerpiece of PP’s dreadful existence. Abortion is the jewel in the crown of Planned Parenthood’s grisly claim of service to humankind. Oddly (and offensively to many who value the lives of children), PP is subsidized by half-a-billion tax dollars, while reporting millions in profit.
How Dare You Challenge Abortion?
As Planned Parenthood proudly proclaims its value to our nation, it unhesitatingly dismisses its critics. For example:
I am told that before I criticize I should walk in the shoes of helpless mothers, wed-and-unwed. How can I not sympathize with the twelve-year-old rape victim whose parents bring her to a PP clinic? How can I find fault with the explicit sex education programs PP sponsors for young people?
Before I heartlessly challenge PP’s altruistic abortion of unwanted children, I should have pity on poor, victimized and abandoned women who seek PP’s largess. I should not pay attention to the sale of aborted body parts which violates law and offends every decent person’s sense of moral outrage.
I am told that I do not understand the real issues at the heart of abortion: namely, it is a woman’s right to rid herself of this child. How could I (a man, lacking any bases for empathy) comprehend the necessity for downtrodden and abused women to finally control their own destinies. Women have a right to be free of the bonds of marriage, family values and the crusty dominance of outdated religious beliefs which insist that unborn babies are human beings, entitled to respect. Every upscale modernist knows the fetus is merely some sort of spiritless blob of tissue.
Shame on me for not recognizing that a 21st Century woman’s health is desperately endangered by pregnancy. Shame on me that I voice no concern for the professional woman whose career will be sidetracked if she has to raise the child she foolishly conceived in a moment of regrettable, if avoidable, arousal. I reveal unconscionable ignorance of the risks which a baby-on-board presents to an upwardly-mobile career woman who seeks to break a glass ceiling.
Woe and alas: I am infected with the tedious Christian belief that we have a God-given moral responsibility to respect the dignity of human life, born and unborn. I am churlishly insensitive to question any woman’s right to be rid of the beating heart and yearning soul growing and developing within the body of its mother. And I use the word “mother” because that word defines the specific honor and unique role for which Nature has graced only womankind, i.e., to be mothers of us all … and to us all.
Life’s Value Is Relative; It Depends On…..What?
What motivates PP’s militant readiness to kill children? Planned Parenthood has the support of countless entertainers and politicians, celebrities and clergypersons, jurists and educational leaders. To abort her child is the woman’s right; that’s it!!
We must not speak about the right of a child to be born and loved and sacrificed for, to be allowed to live and to grow and be educated and disciplined and raised with dignity in the human family. Even some enlightened college professors and students argue that killing children for the first two years of life is entirely acceptable.
And why not? They believe the value of human life is arbitrary and debatable. The value of human life (yours and mine and the child resting in the womb) depends on a lot of stuff …. so they say….
We are, so they say, free to destroy any life which we have not created, any innocent life which we do not believe is human. Why not. Life is arbitrary…… so they say ……. This is especially true if a child has an unpleasant “condition” (Iceland now aborts all potential Down’s Syndrome babies) or is the wrong sex (for decades, China has aborted millions of girl babies) or is expensive to raise or is unwanted -- or any other reason .. so they say…..
How can this be?
How have we come to the point in our nation that we defend the convenient killing of our babies with chic enthusiasm coupled with toxic righteousness?
How can we, even for an instant, believe that life - born and unborn - may be blithely extinguished with such astonishing ruthlessness?
How can we (individually and as a nation under God) so cheapen the gift of life as to destroy life, to destroy that soul and, with it, our fundamental link to our own humanity and our survival?
How can this be? From what moral font does such thinking arise?
As individuals and as a nation, what are we thinking?
31 December 2017
An Elder’s Christmas Reverie
On Loneliness and Loving
Many people find the Christmas season a time of restless stress and lugubrious inertia. Some report episodes of depression and isolation so troubling that their physical and mental health are badly, if temporarily, effected. Television coverage often adds to this malaise by highlighting the misfortunes of others. An example:
A few days before Christmas, a TV reporter asked a child - a homeless child - what the little boy wanted Santa to bring him. The child’s poignant reply: “Some socks without holes.”
The child was sitting in his father’s lap as he spoke. One can hardly imagine what the child’s father – his homeless father -- felt as he heard his son speak these words.
It is surely devastating to a father’s soul when faced with his failure to provide for his family; when his family is without warmth or shelter, clothing or food. The scalding sense of despair and futility would propel any father or mother into an abyss of loneliness and self-doubt. Ours can be a lonely planet.
Loneliness: A Loveless Landscape
Loneliness unchecked weaves a web of debilitating isolation. It infects heart and soul with rootless desperation. It rushes at us when our God-given ability to love and to be loved is thwarted and our hearts are frozen. It derails us when we wish to give of ourselves purely for the sake of loving, or when our love is denied or rejected … or, worst of all, when the gift of loving seems taken from us.
Loneliness stokes one’s sense of loveless isolation and magnifies one’s indecision, while a spiritual void descends upon the soul. When loneliness feeds on helplessness, it also consumes self-respect and crushes motivation. The psychological and spiritual dangers are that despair and depression will then seize the day, become habits of mind and heart, and disarm the willingness to seek help and regain health.
Loneliness and Aloneness
Let’s be clear: Debilitating loneliness is not the same as the normal desire to be alone. Being alone is most often a healthy choice. We sometimes yearn to be alone, disconnected for a time from others by choice, relieved of the pressures of performance; free (at least for a little while) from the benign chores of family or the tedious demands of duty.
Serious study, intense concentration and periods of restful leisure all require aloneness. It is difficult to think clearly or to pray well when anyone (including a beloved) yammers about football or carps about the neighbor’s yapping mutt. Even devotedly married couples who share one another’s drowsy hours are finally alone when, in sleep, they recover from the weariness of healthy labor. Indeed, a good night’s sleep demands aloneness, so that we may escape and refresh. That’s what sleep is for … and as I take my rest, sleeping soundly next to my beloved, I am alone in my quieted heart, alone in my resting soul; oblivious, renewing my energies that I may love again. But, as I sleep I am still connected to those I love and cherish -- and rightly so. My sleepy isolation is only temporary .. and by nature’s dictate. Blessedly, I am not afflicted with the searing futility and dreadful isolation which loneliness imposes.
Faces of Loneliness
What does this loneliness look and feel like when it first wriggles wantonly into the soul?
We have all had deflated feelings of rejection and dreadful emptiness when someone we loved madly had no use for us and could not care less about us. Perhaps we were youngsters going through pre-teen pangs of rejected affection. Perhaps a messy divorce or a calculated betrayal, the death of a loved one or an unforeseen trauma dragged us into a dark, spirit-draining corner of our soul where loneliness thrives, sapping our energy to love, to care about self and others, to be human.
We are all vulnerable when we lose heart or demean our God-given gift to love; when we feel deprived of our power to bear life’s burdens; when goodness and humor slip away and jaded indifference invades our soul; when we believe and accept that we are really worthless, helpless and unlovable – or when our ego and our self-adulation are so inflated that cynicism is our soul’s solitary diet. At such times, we are vulnerable …. and loneliness becomes perniciously attentive.
Our Vulnerable Selves
We face no greater vulnerability in life than when we think of ourselves as unloved and, worse, as un-loveable.
We endure no greater suffering – in intensity and duration -- than when our desire to give love and to be loved is thwarted.
We suffer no greater test than when our attempts to express our love to the beloved are not mutually shared, freely expressed and enthusiastically reciprocated.
We are also in dire straits when empathy fades, arrogance ascends and pleasing the self becomes our sole priority.
The absence of love’s gracious favor is why theologians define Hell as the loss of Love Itself.
We can take some comfort knowing that all of us experience episodes of loneliness, pangs of self-doubt, Dark Nights of the soul. It is a universal experience not restricted by age or economics. It is a universal (but, for most of us, a temporary) fact of life, inherent in the human condition.
For some people, however, the weight of their loneliness provokes them to reject God and His confounding ways, only to embrace cynicism and acrimony, as if doing so benefitted the health or well-being of anyone.
Reasons For It All
Loneliness exists for a definite end. There’s a reason why we are sometimes brought low and made to feel helpless.
Loneliness is a spiritual and psychological jolt by which we are called to examine our human priorities and align our spiritual selves. We do not seek trauma or loss or rejection or the other wages of loneliness – but they happen to all of us.
In many ways, we are a vulnerable race, yet a resilient and determined race, as well. We mean well; we want to do the right thing … but so often we are blind to our capacity for virtue and goodness. Sometimes we give up too soon or settle for less than life offers. Loneliness shouts at us that an imbalance is occurring; something in our lives is amiss. An inner void must be filled. Like it or not, the challenge is there; it is a fact. It may be unwanted -- but it must be faced. Period.
Loneliness forcefully underscores the urgency of going beyond our normal boundaries, beyond the comforting beliefs we have evolved for -- and about -- ourselves. It is a call to dig into our selves, to seek help when we need it, to open the soul’s doors which we may have closed to God and to others through comfort or laziness or spite or fear.
Loneliness is a strongly-worded invitation from God to look inward, to explore the soul’s unused capacities, to look with courageous candor at the uncharted contours of our spiritual selves, there to seek insights still unknown, even threatening, to us.
In times of loneliness and doubt, we need not be -- and we should not be -- isolated from one another nor walled off from God in haughty pride, stubborn denial, arrogant self-regard or capitulation to helplessness.
The anguish and affliction of loneliness are not ends in themselves. We are not created for emptiness of spirit or for the pangs of needless isolation. Our souls do not flourish when we succumb to narcissistic denial or to fatalistic resignation in the face of obvious need or error.
We are created to express kindness toward one another… and to accept the kindness of others. We are created to love our selves and others, and to do this humbly … but resolutely.
The Attitude of Loving
Recognizing the power of a loving attitude is the first step in our search for simplicity of heart which nudges self-doubt aside. An attitude-of-loving gradually recognizes the myriad consolations and disguised blessings which life affords.
We are best served in our search for a loving attitude by our readiness to embrace our personal limitations … and yet to strive to go beyond them. Our search is bolstered by humility and perseverance, by gratitude and empathy, by kindness to others, by an open heart and by the temperance and self-restraint which wisdom bestows.
The Christian virtue of Charity compels us in our search toward an attitude-of-loving. The virtue of Charity reveals to us that the ravages of loneliness are not intended by God or Nature to be meaningless or empty.
Charity’s constant companion is Wisdom. Wisdom brings clarity of mind and spirit. Wisdom builds a treasury of insights which -- cumulatively, over time – beget that loving attitude, despite every contrary reason.
In the context of Wisdom -- abetted by our common sense -- the travail of loneliness now gives way to our dignity as individuals, to our development as persons, to the maturity of our character, to the reality of our status (difficult for some to admit) as creatures of God, to the attitude-of-loving which defines our better nature.
Wisdom Is Smart
So, we are wise to see loneliness not as a route to helpless encapsulation but as an opportunity for deepening our insight into our patterns of denial, flight, spite and avoidance. This approach is both psychologically healthy and spiritually sound.
The price of learning about one’s self -- and the payoff for uncovering one’s deeper resources -- can indeed be high. For some, the cost is far too high, beyond their human capacity. Our care for them is essential.
For others who scoff at self-knowledge, the sweet inertia of narcissism is too enfolding to put aside.
But for those who choose to pursue a loving attitude, the process starts with the humility to face truths about one’s self -- truths which one’s dismissive ego tries mightily to keep locked away from the light.
In fact, one reason why loneliness and self-doubt exert such power over many of us is that we prefer to keep ourselves in the dark about our hidden traits; traits which we should bring to light and change if we are ever to love and to be loved without reservation or hesitation, without camouflage or pretense.
If we look with determination and courage, the dark side of loneliness will unveil traits, habits, fears, attitudes and behaviors which prevent us from caring for others. The self-doubt and arrogance, and all the ego-salving obstacles we erect against candor and vulnerability can also be used as entrees to those private corners of our soul which we do our very best to avoid; the corners in which wisdom awaits, patiently, forgivingly, for its call to illumination.
Charity Begets Clarity
The Christian Virtue of Charity (not merely almsgiving, but a willing change of heart and behavior) urges us “to love our neighbor as ourselves.” It does not say, “instead of ourselves” or “less than ourselves.”
As ourselves. Not with a flattering selfie or a flaccid Facebook bio, but with humility and truth redeemed by God’s mercy (and, one expects, a generous dose of divine humor). As ourselves: This is the command to love maturely. This is psychologically healthy and spiritually sound. And the Virtue of Charity is also the best antidote to the dangers of loneliness to which our flesh is heir.
It is crucial that we learn to express our loving attitudes with generosity, gratitude and belonging. We are all born to be refreshed in heart and mind and soul by God’s Loving Power and by extending, freely and quietly, our kindness to others.
True, God’s power is beyond our making but it is not beyond our sharing and expressing in our own lives. The attitude-of-loving is within each and all of us, is part of us, just as we are part of God’s Creation.
Thus, loneliness offers a choice which can bring us closer to God, closer to understanding and forgiving one another and, ideally, closer to our selves. It is the better choice, by far.
………. Incidentally, Santa was generous: the child did get his new socks.
20 December 2017
An Elder’s Grateful Meditation
On His Wife’s Birthday
We admire heroes. Warriors, statesmen, saints: we have an abundance of heroes in our history books. They are heroes because they acted conspicuously for others or for their country or for some noble purpose. We admire the selflessness of their giving and the courage of their behavior.
We also have heroines ……….. and I wish to speak of my heroine. She is the person closest to me in my life; the woman I have admired for decades, for her tenacity and her resilience, for her fidelity and her gumption. I am struck each day with her courage in adversity and her constancy in kindness to a host of folk, some of whom do not even recognize the rare gift of herself which she so often extends, sometimes with so little acknowledgement.
I speak, of course, of my spouse, my wife Nancy.
I have known this lovely woman for nearly 40 years. As we have aged, she and I have grown older side by side. In these passing years, she and I have become a bit wiser than when we met, a bit more humane together, and surely kinder to one another.
Life has become more difficult for her as these years have flown. Aging has visited certain maladies upon her; as she says, “…aging is not for sissies…”
We share our wonderment about the price of aging, and we ponder God’s plan for us. We have sought the logic behind life’s vagaries and accepted with faith the reality that answers to our questions are not easily found. Life – and God – simply do not operate as we would wish.
So, we realize our lack of comprehension must give way to the mysteries of God’s odd and elusive Will. Despite our wants, His Will overshadows all and underlies all in our lives.
Still, once in a while, we’d like to know…..
Clarity Upholds Perseverance
Long ago we came to the realization that we can control only certain aspects of our lives, and only some of our selves. We’ve worked for decades doing what we can do, accepting what we cannot do, dealing with the encroaching limitations of body and accepting gladly the consolations of soul.
We are also clear about the fact that rarely can we influence or motivate or improve anyone in this world, not even those close to us. Truth be told, we often have enough work helping one another find ways to keep our balance and stay the course God has set for us.
Another truth we have learned is that marital love is not as the young are hoodwinked into envisioning it. The ephemeral glamour and sweeping avalanche of early emotions, the allure of physicality and promise of involvement, the gossamer images of romantic trysts, the sweet agony of parting ‘til the morrow, passionate scenarios and a shared cinematic cigarette – all of these soon prove insufficient for the long haul when it’s time to do the laundry and clean the bathroom and try ever so hard to get along with the in-laws; when, in other words, marriage and egos try gracefully, if edgily, to meld.
Loving Involves More Than Love
Loving someone - especially loving someone on Christian terms - involves far more than love romantically shared. There are the costlier issues of restraining selfish impulses and taming flippant egos and achieving a state of mutual vulnerability and conquering the desire to hurt back. None of this is possible without the bolstering grace of hope and the gritty process of trust-beyond-affection, for we cannot love -- deeply and for very long -- anyone we do not first trust.
We have also realized that, while we are all quite alone with God in this life, in a good marriage God grants each of us a partner in our struggle to be more than we would otherwise choose to be. God has given us someone to share our task and has, thus, embraced us both in our isolation with Him.
With mutually selfless effort daily renewed, and with eyes open to opportunities for generosity of spirit in our marriage, we find in one another a hint of heaven and a path to Goodness. Then are our lives together filled with countless moments of gratitude and gracious giving and the ready sharing of minds and hearts. And we have slowly come to recognize that our mutual salvation is part of our life together and our redemption is every day at hand.
Marriage has become our shared search in which we do indeed discover one another time after time. We search together in spirit and in body, in prayer and in memory, in strife and in renewed friendship, always as two, but always closer to One. And we proceed daily in this Mystery of unity and kindness, sometimes in grumpy mood or painful moments, sometimes in laughter and private humor … but ever closer, in forgiving and sustaining ways.
Over these years, life’s meaning has unfolded, as our egos have become less rigid, less stiff-necked, less demanding … as we become humbled before one another --- and this, by choice.
Staying The Course
In these years God’s purposes have become less remote, less murky to us. Clarity sometimes eludes, but ambiguity no longer discomforts us, as trust quietly infuses our hesitations, and our doubts are eased. A pattern emerges in our lives, and we begin to “get it.” God still withholds much from us, but not hurtfully so.
Not knowing all God’s answers becomes a spur to patience and a reason for seeking to know our beloved. Thus, we communicate and reveal, so that we may know and rely on one another, that we may trust one another, so that our “weaknesses” are now seen as loveable -- and we are safe together. Loving one another is now safe.
We have never understood why God has not made things easier for us, nor decisions clearer to us, nor our loved ones nearer. Neither do we know why we have erred as much as we have over the years, been so hurtful to others as we have been, or why we learn ever-so slowly.
But we persevere. My beloved wife and I persevere. We love, yet because we are human, we love in limited -- always limited -- ways, knowing there is more to give and more to learn. Our marriage is defined by our faith, enlightened by our hope, brightened by the mutuality of our love which has aged so very well.
We stay our course and live our days in God’s own Mystery with fidelity and thanks. Everything we know, everything we are, everything we have done is, in some mysterious way, part of God’s plan. This belief buoys our hope and nourishes our love and infuses our marriage with gratitude … and sustains us both. And we persevere.
Choice Is At The Center Of It All
Some people do not see marriage this way. They are offput by such ideas, by such language, by what they think is shallow rhetoric. Faith is distasteful to them. The thought that we are all of God’s making is repugnant to some people, absurd to others. They do not like God the way He is. They want no part of His Mystery. They choose to reject Him and belittle the trials which test, and also define, the virtue of faith. They turn from the relationship He holds out to us all. They prefer the self to God’s company.
But we, my lovely spouse and I, choose to seek Him together … as gladly and as willingly as our hearts and minds allow. Our frail faith seeks Him -- and for its frailty, our hope upholds us. And we trust that, seeing our faith and our hope, and our impatient frailties (which are always pesky and hovering), along with our doubt and our ever-fragile egos, God still chooses -- in His Mysterious way -- to bring us quietly to Himself, to His Heart, to His embrace.
God reminds us every day that our wisest choice, now and always, is also to embrace our married life together, to embrace the life we share, the life He has given us.
And so, my spouse and I have learned to weigh all else in light of His promises to us, His friendship for us, His reassuring silence within us, His gift of each to the other.
As our married years pass and we become one with Him, then do our doubts fade and we are at peace with who we are, at peace with being loved and loving one another. Our marriage has given us this peace, and we are grateful to God for our being together.
We see -- and we believe -- that our marriage is the way to God, and we go Godward together.
And all of life makes sense at last …. and we are ever so grateful to be married, one to the other, Nancy and I…
15 December 2017
Christmas Memories With
The Young and Arrested
Decades ago, several colleagues and I taught and counseled teenage felons at a Federal youth prison in Washington, D. C. The official title of the place was the National Training School for Boys. Unofficially it was called “The Hill.” The Hill was operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Among its inmates in the 1950s was Charles Manson, whose celebrity needs no comment.
The upper age of prisoners was eighteen; most were much younger. I recall some inmates who were barely twelve years old. One of these pre-teens, a deceptively cherubic lad, had murdered his entire family – parents, grandparents and sister - with a shotgun. Among the prisoners was a youngster I shall call Jimmie Joe, JJ for short. JJ had been arrested several times back in Georgia. His first offense was petty theft when he was nine. Thereafter, JJ had been arrested for other crimes. Inevitably, JJ stole a car. A police pursuit followed. JJ drove wildly from Georgia to Florida, police close behind. By crossing a state line, JJ violated a Federal law, the Dyer Act. He was sent to “The Hill,” where I first met him. He was fifteen - a hard, unsmiling, bitter fifteen years old.
The Dreadful Fathers
One afternoon, I was speaking to a small group of prisoners about God the Father. JJ listened for a while, then suddenly turned his chair sideways, muttering a commonly-used four-letter word which indicated (shall we say) his distaste for the subject. I challenged JJ and asked, “What’s the problem?”
In every prison, civility and good manners give way to blunt, often punitive confrontations. Verbal niceties are shelved for more immediate, more pressing concerns. So, JJ was blunt:
“You talk about this loving Father God as if he was something special. My father used to beat hell out of me when he was drunk, and then he beat hell out of me when he was sober. He beat my mom, too. So, don’t talk to me about no loving father. That’s all crap to me. It’s all a bunch of crap…”
A Dark JJ Christmas
Later that year – on Christmas Eve – I visited the prison, bearing gifts of candy and cigarettes. We did not then know about smoking’s harmful effects, and cigarettes were among the few negotiable treasures inmates coveted for barter or, sometimes, for forgetfulness.
As I mingled among the inmates in one of the prison’s assembly halls, I noticed JJ on the floor in a shadowed corner, speaking to no one, huddled in a drab khaki blanket, his forehead against the wall. Like many prisoners, he had no family writing to him, no visitors to cheer him, no Christmas gifts from the outside to give him hope or remind him of a distant someone’s care. I had not before seen such incarnate loneliness in my life.
With the permission of the guards, I took JJ out into the yard, into the evening darkness, where we walked a long while in silence. Finally, I asked JJ if I could do anything for him, perhaps even pray with him. It was Christmas, after all.
“I’ll be paroled soon,” he said, after a long moment.
“Where will you go? What will you do?” I asked.
“What will I do?” he repeated. “What will I do?” He drew the drab blanket tightly over his shoulders, hunching against the Christmas cold. But then he straightened his back and took a deep breath of the chilly air. And then he answered my question. “I’m gonna hurt people,” he said. “I’m gonna hurt a lot of people when I get out. I wanna burn churches and steal what I can. I wanna hurt a lot of people. That’s what I’m gonna do…. and I’m gonna kill my father….. that’s what I’m gonna do….”
The Unanswered Question
A few weeks later, JJ was paroled to a distant aunt in Georgia. I know he would soon be amongst his old contacts. I never saw him after his release. But JJ and I had one last conversation the day before he left The Hill. He said that over the months during which we had many talks, he had indeed come to trust me - but he also felt sorry because he felt he disappointed me. He knew I wanted him to be better, to be stronger than he was; to be a better youngster than he was, to forgive and to pray and to trust God, the Father, Who was still .. to him.. still a stranger, still a Person he could not tolerate, a reality he hated. And JJ knew I had hoped for more for him….. and he was sorry.
Then we parted. JJ’s last words to me still linger:
“Thanks; thanks for trying…”
Finding Meaning and Seeking God
I do not know what happened to JJ -- or to so many of those teenage inmates I knew so many decades ago. I do know some of them went on to adult prisons; several were killed along the years. Happily, some met the right person and never crossed the line again ….. and some became fathers.
But that cold Christmas Eve with JJ has always reminded me that those of us who do have family are so very blessed, so truly blessed.
Even when conflict and estrangement intrude upon the hopes and the needs and open affection which initially unite all families, still we are blessed with the promise of being known and seen and accepted as we are, cared about and revered by those few, those precious few, our family.
I still pray for JJ – and for those who had hurt him so profoundly and so early in his young life. I pray that JJ came one day to know Our Father Who is in Heaven. I pray that JJ may even have become a good and caring father to his own beloved few. But I do know that, despite the uncertainties of JJ’s years and his estranged need, he is surely beloved by Our Father.
I hope JJ came one day to know and believe in his own ability to love - however buried and bruised it was when I knew him. I hope he learned one day to love and to be loved, well and deeply.
And so, I hope, may we all.
10 December 2017
An Elder Looks At Feeling Good
A dear and honest friend – a friend of many years -- writes to tell me that last week’s essay on political correctness presented only negative sides of feelings. In that essay, I wrote about the “tyranny of feelings” as a driving force in the success of political correctness and the erosion of our Constitutional protections from government interference.
My friend suggests – correctly -- that feelings are useful and valuable when expressed appropriately. More than that, he reminds me – correctly -- that the proper expression of feelings is essential for a balanced and healthy life.
Balance: balance is the crucial word.
Balance means we must consider the consequences of how we express our feelings and emotions. Feelings must be balanced by reason. Reason is guided by moral principles, by good judgment and by the virtue of prudence (among others). It is this interaction of mind and feelings, this balancing act between reason and emotion, between impulse and temperance, that sums up our moral struggle along an arduous path toward maturity.
Life Is A Moral Enterprise
Life always involves moral decisions because life is a tug-of-war between virtues and their opposites. Life is a constant choice to do what is right and prudent for ourselves, to do what is good and kind for others … or the choice to do what is selfish and rash, cold and uncaring, thoughtless and harmful. Even scenarios which seem morally neutral and devoid of moral content still contain the seeds of choice and accountability. And our power to choose is the threshold to the moral dimension of our lives and of the relationships we build.
Feelings are kept in effective moral balance by a conscience formed in virtue. But keeping that balance is a struggle because it demands responsible decisions and practical action based on candor and humility.
Without the oversight of reason and the self-restraint of virtue, our raw, unstudied feelings may be likened to the impulsive child who is given to unruly self-expression. Reason and conscience balance feeling’s power and direct its overt expression by reminding us of the consequences we face, be they punitive or sanctifying.
Self-Control And Context
There’s two tricky things about feelings:
one is 1) self-control, the other is 2) context.
- Self-control obviously refers to how we express our feelings. Unchecked feelings produce urges and impulses which can overcome us in an instant. Feeling-impulses can break through the strongest defenses and incline even the calmest of souls to primitive outbursts or reckless actions. Self-control is indispensable.
- Context defines the specific roles and responsibilities we accept at various stages of life (child, parent, student, spouse, banker, teacher, politician and so forth). Specific moral duties and ethical expectations come with each role. These duties dictate certain sets of behaviors which we accept and honor – or should.
Context also sets limits and boundaries. These limits present ethical challenges and moral choices. We are (or, again, should be) guided by the dictates of conscience found in the virtues. The virtues (e.g., fidelity) emphasize the fundamental self-restraint we are expected to observe, the social contracts we must honor, the moral demands we must accept as part of our state of life. Some limits and expectations are contractual, some assumed – but they are there, always there, enlightening the moral nature of human life and the potential goodness in all human relationships.
Staying Ahead of the Curve
Feelings can be very strong, as we all know. We have all said and done things which we later regret, things which make us look and feel foolish when – for whatever reason – we ignore the fundamentals of self-control.
The secret to self-control, to staying ahead of our feeling-impulses, is to focus on their power over our Better Self, to learn when they appear and what sets us off. We have to be smart -- and honest -- about our weak points. We have to choose how, when and to whom we express ourselves, to be prudent in what we say and how we say it -- especially when our feelings are electric with energy, when we are ready to let go and are nearing a trigger moment… that instant when we lose it.
Wisdom and maturity – the hard-earned talents that usually take a lifetime to achieve -- tell us that feelings need the saving restraint of virtue. Our raw feelings need reasoned virtue to soothe our vulnerabilities and calm our bruised. needy egos, lest we be hostage to our emotions. Righteousness and candor have a place in our emotional lives, but without virtue to moderate and restrain our self-righteous alibis, we will be ill-served by impulsivity and bluster, which congratulate themselves because they seem “authentic.”
Thus, it is wise to remember that the mark of adulthood is the manner in which we express our feelings appropriately, with moderated restraint. In fact, the mark of emotional maturity is the style by which we properly manage our feeling-impulses within the limits of social restraint and moral virtue.
Feelings which are in sync with reasoned virtue and altruistic concern become commitments. Our behavior is then honorable, even if no one else knows or cares.
Moral virtues are always – always -- at the heart of a stable emotional -- and spiritual -- life. Virtues are always at the heart of our struggle for moral maturity, emotional stability and spiritual goodness. Virtue is always at the heart of our life-long search of our Better Self – i.e., for the generous, giving, altruistic part of our soul.
Everyone has a Better Self, an idealized version of who we want to be, of the person we truly want to be. As we pursue our Better Self, our reckless expressions of our feelings (sometimes felt only secretly, within us alone) tip us off to just how far we are straying from the virtuous path. Our struggle to reach our Better Self is surely nourished when we recognize that virtue and self-restraint are the signposts on that path. And the Better Self is always within us, always patiently waiting.
It is possible to dismiss that Better Self, possible to cease the search, to put our struggle for virtue aside. It is possible --- but doing this is ever so unwise.
Some people identify their Better Self with the achievement of the riches of Croesus or the body of Adonis or the wisdom of Solomon. For many of us elders, however, the Better Self is pleased simply to walk without a cane. We are blessed to see, with unblurred clarity, the faces and smiles of our loved ones … and to accept with gratitude the ineffable gift of Life -- all life.
Finally, take it from an elder: as we age and each year reminds us of how swiftly they do pass, our wearying search for wisdom finally tells us that it is feelings of tranquility, a peaceful mind, a prayerful day, a forgiving heart, a caring family, a good night’s sleep, an emotionally quiet soul -- and a dear and honest friend of many years – that are truly life’s best gifts.
Given such an abundance of God’s beneficence, one cannot help but feel good, very good, indeed.
3 December 2017
An Elder’s Cautionary
The Rise of Political Correctness
Many uninformed Americans think political correctness (PC) purifies our democracy of bigots and racists and white-privileged villains. Some PC practitioners are enraged at real inequalities. Others, moved by populist rubbish coupled with dreary narcissism, relish the rush of superiority provided by PC’s tendentious rhetoric.
PC’s manipulative methodology functions as a moral and cultural bulldozer. PC thrives by strewing guilt and shame as it claims to stand for the rights of victimized minorities. In reality, it polarizes, rather than clarifies issues and undermines solutions.
Political correctness is a product of Marxist ideology during the Russian Revolution. To stifle wayward thought and punish wayward thinkers, Lenin introduced terror as a political reality. PC set the standards for acceptable thought and speech by which Communist ideology was to be parroted in the Marxist workers’ paradise of the Soviet Union.
PC was appropriated by Marxist planners at the Frankfurt School in post-World War I Germany. The Frankfurt revolutionaries focused on cultural, rather than economic, revolution. When Hitler’s Holocaust threatened, the Frankfurt group moved to America. Here, they found fertile, long-term ground for their insidious programs in cultural destruction and moral degradation. We also see PC directives in Maoist China’s “Ten Points” in 1963.
PC vs The Common Good
In fact, politically correctness is common to every group which demands rigid “party line” adherence to unilateral conformity. It is, of course, antithetical to representative forms of democratic governance which it seeks to annihilate.
Whether we call it Leftist or Progressive, Socialist, Marxist or Communist, even Neo-Liberal, we see PC’s mark daily in our world. We hear it in the rhetoric of those who attack white-privileged power structures; in the strident voices of those who condemn Judeo-Christian morality. In European countries which admit any-and-all migrants without restriction, widespread violence is now common ( Link ) .
The most absurd example of PC ruthlessness is the behavior of the Attorneys General of California and Pennsylvania who are once again suing the Little Sisters of the Poor for failing to supply birth control and abortifacients to their employees. In this instance, one is unable to ascertain even the slightest benefit to the common good.
PC undermines the moral and cultural foundations of our democracy. Even so, PC continues to make notable inroads in American society, even as it trashes our traditions and uses our freedoms to deprive citizens of those same freedoms.
How Come PC Is So Powerful?
How has PC become so omnipresent?
First, some Americans are emotionally righteous as well as historically ignorant. They think PC is a nobly humanistic enterprise which assists downtrodden, racially victimized, sexually exploited minorities.
Some tunnel-visioned PC activists report bursts of virtuous uplift when calling out “hate speakers,” “homophobes,” “Islamophobes,” even “white-privileged” patrons of Wal-Mart whose shopping-dollars support a white racist power structure.
Moreover, whose rights are furthered when gay couples sue a baker or a florist or bed-and-breakfast owners for exercising their Christian faith by refusing service for gay “marriages.”
Second, PC relies heavily on American tolerance for differing viewpoints, yet PC tolerates no variances whatever from its tenets.
Its version of diversity tears at the American tradition of assimilation. Its idea of inclusion results in a flood of unvetted foreigners. Its attacks on morality result in the destruction of traditional marriage and family, and in the present state of sexual madness which plagues the soul of our society.
The excesses of PC political leaders promote false altruism, invite risk and endanger the lives of citizens (as in the Steinle case and so-called “sanctuary cities”).
Third, PC thrives on intellectual passivity and moral relativism which infects many voters, legislators, local officials, educators, clergy and, worst, parents.
Fourth, PC received major cultural and intellectual boosts in the mid-1960s with the arrival of the so-called Human Potential Movement (HPM).
Potentializing Human Potential
HPM believed people had vast untapped resources. If proper conditions were met, human potential would pour forth. Central to HPM was the idea that expressing feelings and emotions were the keys to “health” and “growth.” Emotions were separate from intellectual and moral standards. Expressing one’s deepest hidden, often buried, feelings was central to the dynamic process of “becoming” a human being.
Many leaders in HPM held that personality development was hampered when moral codes overrode instinctual urges. Feelings were honest; they don’t lie. So, the natural unfolding of one’s human potential was stymied when restraints of any kind were applied.
Neurotic restraints were plentiful in our rigid churches and families and political systems and schools and social groups under the sway of Judeo-Christian creeds. So, HPM devised environments stripped of traditional restraints. It developed a plethora of programs and leaders. Some programs proved useful --- but a host of these ventures rejected social and moral restraints, discarded traditional wisdom, individual conscience, even common sense. A precarious doctrine of personal autonomy arose and gained populist cache as the years passed.
West Coast and East
HPM’s proponents found elitist legitimacy when the Esalen Institute opened in Big Sur, California in the early 1960s. Esalen offered a large and, at the time, impressive roster of experimental programs and faculty innovators in “human development.” From lengthy intellectual seminars to nude baths to “primal scream” workshops in infantile regression, Esalen had it all.
Soon the “Esalen” brand stood for the high-risk spirit of West Coast HPM entrepreneurs.
On the East Coast, HPM’s investigators initially developed a more cerebral, academic approach, centered around the “laboratory method.” The small group was envisioned as the midpoint between the individual and society. Thus, the focus was on the T-Group (T for training) as the research instrument.
The T-Group phenomenon soon became known as “sensitivity training.” Its West Coast adaptation was called the “encounter group,” employed by the disciples of Dr. Carl Rogers in La Jolla, California.
From its original model as a research tool, the sensitivity training/encounter group model became a ubiquitous device for correcting social ills and cultural deviance. Echoing the contributions of Freud, Adorno and other radical secularists, the HPM gave heft to the expression of emotions and instinctual urges as essential to healthy personality.
The Tyranny of Feelings
These messages of restraint-free living spread everywhere. Repression was bad, self-expression good. How you “feel” defines who you are, so let it all hang out. Uncritical, unrestrained expression of one's personal "feelings" was important to psychological health. Abnormality was defined by repression and guilt. Cognition and “head trips” were fraudulent façades and manipulative controls exerted by a repressive society whose agents were churches, parents, schools and the Establishment.
Letting it all “hang out" became acceptable, even desirable, behavior. This “new normal” eclipsed traditional social restraints. and soon re-defined traditional public moral norms.
At the same time, angry demonstrations and political movements were erupting throughout the 1960s. The radical spirit of the times was summed in Timothy Leary’s phrase: “..tune in, turn on and drop out.”
Tuning into one’s inner impulses, needs and frustrations was often facilitated by LSD and a grab-bag of other drugs (some of which are now legal in various states, which reveals how ingrained is the idea that freedom should have no limitations).
To sum it up, the Human Potential Movement gave mainstream legitimacy to public excess, to social rage, to moral truancy, to no-limit notions of self-defined rights -- and to PC ideas such as these:
- Feelings are good, restraints bad.
- The individual's freedom to express needs without being judged is paramount.
- If one is restrained by traditional religious or family norms, these norms must change or be overthrown.
- Freedom and individual rights are defined by the individual.
- Personal freedom is more important than moral norms or social restraint.
- The notion of “moral character” is a restraint by religion and society to keep people in line.
- The single most important goal in life is "healing" one's personality, which has been broken by parents, church, school and other agencies which have stifled our ability to "feel" and to express our emotions and our sexual selves.
- Sex is a matter of choice.
- No one should judge me. Judging others and holding them morally responsible for their behavior are manipulative actions intended by authority figures to invade the psychic space of others and to infiltrate their unconscious minds with controlling and self-defeating thoughts.
- The white-privileged Establishment, i.e., the power structure, uses police and laws to restrain, victimize and deny minorities their “rights.”
- Minorites (Blacks, Latinos and women, students and immigrants) are victims of Conservative political, family and religious controls.
- Morality is defined as I choose, as is gender.
These ideas are now deeply absorbed by academics and educational institutions, giving rise to the pernicious beliefs that self-restraint is an impediment to achievement. Some educators believe that children should “feel good” about themselves, that competition is harmful, that boys can decide to be girls, that "self-esteem" is more important than learning.
Today, many academics believe they are the only valid agents for social and cultural change. They are liberated from repressive cultural and moral traditions, are above traditional social and religious myths. They alone can stimulate lasting generational change. They alone can rise about the delusions of religion, patriotism and other tired concepts encoded in tradition, law and religious faith.
Ideas to Action
As a result of all this we now behold adults who mistake “self-esteem” for genuine self-respect. We see students without academic achievement, awarded trophies merely for showing up, lest their feelings be bruised by competition, lest they fold at the thought of having to merit recognition.
We see performance standards become delusions, teachers without control and discipline jettisoned. Children believe that normal effort and self-discipline prove nothing. They are all winners, no matter how little they achieve.
In summary, then, let us remember that PC proceeds under these tactics:
- Expose the faults and errors of the opponent. Even good people make mistakes. Find those mistakes and focus on faults and errors.
- Ignore and belittle any positive aspects of the opponent’s history. Demean, ridicule, accuse, disrupt, point fingers. Find fault. If none exists, create it.
- Make “equality” central. Justify your position by making the opponent defend his position. Villainize the opponent. Go for the jugular. Attack and belittle’ use the opponent’s ideals as weapons against him.
- Never explain yourself. Answer criticisms by attacking the critic as racist or sexist or homophobe or Islamophobe or white-privileged. Accuse your opponent of hate speech and prejudice.
- Deflect responsibility away from yourself by exposing the opponent’s faults, even if they do not exist. Magnify the opponent’s guilt and evil, even if it does not exist.
The Worrisome Future
Political correctness now undermines our traditional Judeo-Christian morality and manipulates our Constitution. It belittles self-restraint, assaults modesty, ignores charity, strains hope, abuses justice, rejects traditional ethics. It saturates our media, our entertainment and our political life.
The sad truth is that, rather than actually "healing" our culture, America’s excessive tolerance has actually spawned new -- and far more extensive -- PC pathology than many of us will admit -- or may even recognize.
PC undermines our 230 years of Constitutional governance and pushes us toward the annihilation of America and the creation of a nihilistic endpoint.
It is happening and, God help us, it grows like a cancer in our midst.
26 November 2017
An Elder's Alarm
Part Two : PC On The Attack
America is not a perfect nation. We struggle with a host of social and moral issues, with racist and sexist conflicts, with Constitutional limits of government’s role in our lives, with freedoms of religion and speech, gun rights and immigration. We do not enforce our laws uniformly, nor do we support law enforcement with consistency.
We are fallible as parents and spouses, as friends and teachers, as politicians and leaders. When our politics overwhelms our moral acuity, our fallibility infuses our government, our culture, our communities and our families, even our churches.
So, no… we are not a perfect nation, nor a perfect people. Mistakes in judgment are inescapably part of our nature. We are prone to countless faults and imperfections, to vices and sins, to unpredictable twists in our genetic make-up. Thus, all nations are imperfect because all human beings are imperfect.
To err is indeed human. We do indeed err in our lives as citizens and in our endeavors to govern justly. Wisdom and moral stability do elude us, and self-delusion does plague us ….. that’s for sure.
But we persevere. We Americans do persevere. So, it is even more important that we recognize the need to learn from history and from one another. Only then we can humbly choose to change and to become a more mature and virtuous society.
The truth is, we always have a choice.
Our Guiding First Principles
Underscoring our collective power to improve as a people are the various Constitutional freedoms afforded by our Bill of Rights. These restraints on government intrusion are central to our American enterprise. They define our form of democracy.
In addition, our American democracy is founded upon, and sustained by, the virtues of our Judeo-Christian tradition and history. As individuals and as a nation, we are formed by a host of civic and religious virtues such as justice, temperance, prudence, benevolence, humility, perseverance and patriotism.
These are the moral and behavioral guidelines with which our religious traditions endow us as persons and as a nation founded under God, seeking liberty and justice for all.
Clearly, we are not a perfect nation -- but we pursue solutions with good will and uncanny generosity. When we fail, we seek to learn from our errant past, then to face the inevitable conflicts to which our human nature is universal heir.
These are more than words. They are our way of living, our guides to nationhood and citizenry.
American Exceptionalism is Real
Despite disparagement from politicians, America’s exceptionalism is a reality. American exceptionalism rests on our founding belief that, as one nation under God, we face problems, seek answers and find solutions.
Our guides in this quest are 1) our Constitution and 2) our Judeo-Christian heritage. Our American history, checkered but resolute, tells us that our ideals can be pursued and, at times, effectively realized, if never fully accomplished. But no matter how slowly, how painfully we proceed, we struggle to honor our ideals, lawfully and humanely, as individuals and as a nation.
This is who we are as a people. This is who we are as a nation. This is what America strives ever to be.
PC Pursues America, the Ugly
Political correctness (PC) denies all this. Let’s take a refresher-look at its principles and techniques:
PC commonly depicts America as an evil, predacious nation. PC employs derisive half-truths, name-calling and punitive labeling. It encourages moral excess, verbal exaggeration and, when necessary, intentional lies to besmirch our nation and portray America as the world’s worst problem.
PC rhetoric often indulges in baseless, facile and manipulative accusations which, when examined, seen risibly irrational, slippery and elusive. PC is not given to balanced discourse. Its excesses thrive on guilt-by-association and character assassination which distort facts and belittle history.
It exploits, rather than explores, painful social issues, especially by inciting racial victimhood. Once a victim-group is identified, the PC Community energetically lists oppressor-villains, usually white Christian males and, lately, police officers, whom it often portrays as racists delighting in exploitation of weaker peoples. Racism is often attributed to Republicans who (as Mr. Biden told a black audience) want to put black people “back in chains.”
In the PC worldview, white racist/sexist Americans pursue conquest and dominance. White males especially are sources of unquenchable aggression. Conservatives are cultish, aging “homophobes” and “Islamophobes;” curdled moralists spewing hate speech. They are held in check only by PC’s appeal for scattershot diversity and reckless inclusion.
An example of PC’s oddball empathy for the weak and downtrodden is their coddling of “Snowflakes.” Snowflakes are college students whose psychic balance has been upset by Conservative campus speakers. These fragile students are given shelter, solace and warm cocoa (oh, yes, and cuddly teddy bears) by protective faculty and student colleagues, lest the Snowflakes suffer the debilitating trauma of further Conservative ideas.
You cannot make this stuff up………
PC Is Making Converts
This nonsense aside, American citizens should be gravely concerned that PC is indeed converting many American youth to its desultory slough of Marxist despond. Its damning critiques of democracy and its appeals to convoluted notions of fairness and justice are having erosive effect in our society.
Research tell us that PC’s destructive preachments are now reaching many younger Americans, especially so-called “Millennials.” A majority of millennials now prefer communism – communism -- to democracy (see my essay on Socialism, herein).
Moreover, PC’s reckless use of language and its denial of objective truth have greatly weakened free speech. The free exercise of religion and the pursuit of truth itself are under assault.
As PC moves more deeply into our national marrow, it seduces not merely young people but jurists and legislators, media and entertainment persons. Even some clergy and religious leaders have bitten the PC apple.
Most concerning of all, PC is rampant among academics and teachers at all educational levels. Its impact and influence are proving to be intellectually and culturally transformative.
No Conservative person or traditional organization is immune from PC’s intolerant pretenses at tolerance. PC pursues specious fairness and faux-equality, inclusion without qualification, diversity and moral relativism.
A current example of its disregard for tradition is the law suit newly filed by the States of California and Pennsylvania. The suit seeks to require anew the Little Sisters of the Poor to supply abortion and birth control in their insurance for employees. See Lifenews
Major Villains: Privileged White Males
Since the Vietnam Era, a main target of PC vigilance has been America’s white-male Establishment. PC’ers continue to accuse “the Establishment” of an over-abundance of perks which only hard-hearted, white males receive. These perks come, of course, at the expense of victimized minorities.
To this end, PC’ers cite a litany of abuses heaped upon blacks and women and immigrants and others; abuses flowing from “white privilege.”
In recent years, “white privilege” has emerged from the PC academic community as further example of insatiable colonialism for which our Caucasian-heavy Western history must guiltily atone. To be white-and-male is to be a rapacious ethnic despoiler. For some PC’ers, white maleness merits a raging 9.5 on the Leftist Scale of Pearl-Clutching Villainy (10 is reserved for Conservative Trump supporters).
The academic community is particularly smitten with PC values. Unfortunately, PC has infiltrated even some Catholic colleges and universities. Very often, no discernible differences exist between Catholic institutions and their secular counterparts. See Hendershott, "Taking the Catholic Out of Catholic Universities"
George Washington … Racist?
In the academic and political spheres, PC’s reckless imputations about white privilege and other politically correct dogma have encouraged the indictment of America’s historically significant notables. Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, even Lincoln are fair game for the punitive illogic of PC vigilantes. To our historical loss, gullible segments of society are increasingly buying this incredibly petty rejection of our heritage.
The shallowness of such thinking is astonishing and historically counter-productive. It reveals how deeply into our culture PC thinking has burrowed.
Subversion As Progressive Virtue
But, wait! There’s more……..
PC’ers -- especially Left-Progressive legislators and a host of academics -- speak with auras of inerrancy and righteous judgmentalism. These are, of course, traits which they vigorously condemn in opponents.
Many PC practitioners take pride in their poorly-considered decision to seek “equality” for all. PC “equality” includes benefits of citizenship for illegal aliens. California extends drivers’ licenses and free education, with protection from Federal immigration laws in so-called “sanctuary cities.” Some PC’ers have even supported illegals who crossed our borders and committed crimes.
When challenged, PC’ers often declare a superior secular morality which disdains traditional legal and moral restraints. But their brand of “equality” is a zero-sum tactic. This means they gain their ends only when others lose their Constitutional freedoms and rights, which PC’ers judge retrograde and unjust.
Thus, PC seeks specious “equality” by any means necessary, including rejection of our Constitutional rights and our system of laws and traditions. Even failure to enforce just laws is acceptable.
To PC or Not to PC
By now, I hope it is clear that PC’s contrarian principles have the cumulative long-term effect of subverting American customs and destroying our moral traditions.
The fractious strategies of political correctness continue to drill into our culture, our educational systems, our governing agencies, our unions and our divisive new media, our entertainment sources and our neighborhoods -- even our football Sundays (see the essay herein about Take-A-Knee Marxism).
With all of this, how has political correctness made such deep and pervasive inroads into American culture?
We will examine this question in our next issue of Away With Words.
Thank you for reading……………..
22 November 2017
An Elder’s Lament: Marxism On The Rise
Part One: Politically Correct America
Americans are nice people. We are fair people. We play fair. We fight fair (or fairly, if you prefer). We teach our kids to be fair. We want to be fair, tolerant and inclusive, diverse and non-judgmental and ever-so accommodating to everyone.
We are all equal, too. Let there be equality for all. Equality is good; equal and fair, tolerant and non-judgmental, diverse and inclusive …. That’s us … sounds good …
But pockets of drooling misfits and hordes of leering miscreants still dwell amongst us – and they vote!! They are the politically incorrect “haters” and “homophobes” and “Islamophobes;” those gnarly traditionalists and hard-nosed Conservatives; those rigid Constitutionalists and those guns-and-Bible-clinging deplorables (you know who you are!). They still resist politically correct fairness and inclusion and diversity and non-judgmentalism and moral relativism.
They resist political correctness … so they should be reprimanded severely, made to be inclusive and diverse and non-judgmental and morally indifferent and fair and equal to everyone… by golly!!
PC Has Arrived
Yes, indeed, political correctness (PC) has deeply embedded itself in mainstream America --- and it is slowly accomplishing the previously unimaginable transformation of our society and our culture.
We are now witnessing in America a transformation of profound moral and cultural significance. PC is producing radical changes in how we think and act and treat one another, how we define human nature, how we view life, liberty and American identity. Worse, PC is a threat to national security.
Still, many Americans do not recognize -- or refuse to acknowledge -- obvious changes in attitude and behavior which are daily transforming and distorting the character and culture of America and its people.
History is eminently clear: PC is not a passing fad nor an historical accident. It is the deliberate eradication of American values, the rejection of our ideals, the corruption of our culture. PC speeds America into continuing moral collapse and cultural nihilism. PC’s obvious progress should be deeply troubling to every American citizen.
What’s PC All About?
Political correctness originated in German Marxism during the 1920s. This fact alone should alert us to the radical dangers which are at its core.
Marxism’s attempt at violent revolution took root in Russia; the Soviet Union was the result. But Marxist revolution was not as successful in other countries, including Germany. So, a group of Marxist theorists and activists formed the Institute for Social Research (referred to as the ”Frankfurt School”) and changed their revolutionary focus from economics to cultural radicalism.
During the Second World War, the Frankfurt group moved to Columbia University… but their goals remained consistent: to criticize and destroy Christian society and eradicate Western culture.
Their purpose was not to build a utopian world but to ridicule our moral and legal traditions and bury Western society. Herbert Marcuse, one of the most influential PC’ers, put it this way:
"One can rightfully speak of a cultural revolution, since the protest is directed toward the whole cultural establishment, including the morality of existing society....What we must undertake is a type of diffuse and dispersed disintegration of the system."
To foment destruction of our culture and morality, the Frankfurt School planners devised ways to weaken and eliminate the age-old foundations and traditions of Western/Judeo-Christian civilization.
Here are some of their means to that end:
- Undercut traditional marriage.
- Eliminate religion’s emphasis on virtues such as self-restraint, modesty and chastity.
- Eliminate family values and parental authority.
- Re-define justice and undermine authority.
- Infiltrate schools, teachers’ unions and labor organizations.
- Demean patriotic traditions.
- Depict patriotism as rabid racism.
- Abolish sex differences and restraints.
- Encourage and legitimize unfettered sexual activity at all ages, including childhood.
- Use Christian ideals as weapons to diminish Christian moral influence.
- Dramatize racial and sexual differences as sources of repression and abuse.
- Create unrest especially among women and minorities.
- Find human weaknesses, then exploit those weaknesses and politicize them.
- Promote widespread victimhood, make any behavior, however bizarre, a human and civil “right.”
- Destroy tradition, morality, culture, law, even the meaning of words and the usages of language.
- Re-write history and religion; twist reality and facts as needed.
- Depict successful people as establishment exploiters and persecutors of workers.
- Always rely on the naïveté, good will, ignorance, gullibility and sense of fair play of the opposition.
- Exaggerate, accuse, point fingers, put the opposition on the defensive and make them justify themselves even if they are right.
All this, for starters.
So, What’s My Point?
What does all this mean to us in America today? Let’s take a look at how our country has changed. Let’s examine the facts.
Man is now woman. Black is now white. Modesty and respect for differences between the sexes – even in kindergarten -- is demeaned by educated adults.
Facts are opinions; even fundamental biology is ignored or denied. Truth and moral values are now relative. Objective standards – including belief in God and in His revealed word -- are discarded. History is re-defined or ignored. Reality is whatever the individual decides. Constitutional protections are challenged, often disparaged, sometimes set aside.
Marriage no longer has meaning; we are free to marry anyone, including ourselves. Family life is tattered. The largest number of children in the Black community are now born out of wedlock, without fathers. Government’s two-edged welfare largess replaces family stability and subsidizes illegitimacy.
Public prayer is now forbidden, even punished. Schools celebrate forms of radical anti-American beliefs; some schools promote Islam but forbid other religions. Christian bakers and florists are punished for living their religious beliefs.
Diversity really demands conformity. Inclusion demands equality and “rights” for outsiders without qualifications or vetting. American exceptionalism no longer merits respect even from a President.
Non-judgmentalism of any kind is taboo. Respect for law is increasingly disregarded by public officials. Police are now the enemy. Drug use and gambling are state-approved. Moral relativism overwhelms traditions of virtue and common sense. Morality is now fluid and non-binding.
Right and wrong, sin and evil, self-restraint and conscience are sources of authoritarian guilt in family and church. Natural Law is archaic, virtue passé. Unfettered self-expression of all sorts, for all ages, is the norm. Many parents are reluctant to invoke their God-given authority.
Suicide is a “right” facilitated by physicians who once pledged to respect and enrich life. Liberated women claim the “right” to kill their living child for any reason. Government defends abortion as “medical” care. Planned Parenthood and other groups harvest and sell body parts. Religious institutions supply abortifacients to prevent conception and facilitate abortion of the unborn.
An eight-year-old boy is transformed into a “drag queen” (see my earlier essay on this blog). Some physicians support gender fluidity, denying the+ scientific facts of DNA, supporting the wretched lie that men and women can change their sexual identity through surgery and hormone therapy.
No Big Deal? Passing Fads?
These changes do not simply “happen.” They result from deliberate choices people make.
Some PC’ers think they act with “good intentions” and have special insight into the ills and crimes of America. They think they are “healing” the wounds of repression and arrogance which our moral and legal traditions have wrought. Their shallow good will blinds them to the violent reality which they further.
Other PC’ers proceed with malicious intent to erode the freedoms of democracy and the challenges of capitalist economics. They want to tear America down.
Their mission is simple: tear us down by any means necessary.
And here is where political correctness comes in, with its denial of fact and history and human experience and science, with its rejection of common sense and divine wisdom, with its destruction of moral insight and cultural restraint, with its promotion of radical individualism, with its destruction of moral restraints and socio-cultural limits.
There is much more to reveal about the pernicious techniques and worrisome effects of political correctness. There is also much to be said about the people who further its progress, either knowingly with militant contempt and pernicious intent, or merely from the need to appear insightfully righteous and tolerant toward the uninformed.
We shall pursue these issues in the next edition of Away With Words………
13 November 2017
An Elder’s Take: Beyond Politics
Millionaires and Billionaires, Be Gone!!
Socialism’s Cosmetic Re-Animation
It’s Summer of 1989. I am in Warsaw, Poland for a conference. As I check out of my hotel, the desk clerk - a young woman in her twenties – hands over my passport ….. but she holds onto it for a long moment, staring at the Great Seal of the United States of America on the cover.
Then, with a furtive glance toward a glum, grey man sitting across the lobby, she says in a low voice, “America must be a wonderful place.” I say yes, indeed, America is a great and beautiful country .... and I ask her why she thinks so.
Again, she looks -- cautiously, stealthily -- at that glum, grey man who sits unmoving for hours, watching…. Then, with her eyes downcast, she leans close to me and, in a guarded whisper, she says:
“In America, you do not have to be afraid.”
In 1989, Poland was still under Marxist domination; the Communist Party had ruled for nearly fifty years. All decisions - from the selection of teachers to crop quotas for small farms to chaotic distribution of goods resulting in catastrophic losses of revenue and productivity - were made by nameless oligarchs in distant Moscow. Internal security measures, often severe and arbitrary, were enforced by humorless glum, grey men, ever-present, watching.
Oppressive fear -- sometimes vague, always at hand -- hovered everywhere. Routine dehumanization and nagging apprehension defined life under Marxist socialism.
The Human Costs of Socialism
Let me tell you what I learned about socialist reality on a practical, day-to-day basis as I walked the streets and squares, avenues and quiet lanes, as I visited the homes of the people of Warsaw and Krakow. Let me briefly describe socialist reality in action.
First of all, I noticed unsmiling young men - teenagers, really – dressed in rough military uniforms; youngsters with hard, expression-less faces, eyes flitting back and forth with edgy coldness, suspicious of strangers, on constant watch, rudely intoxicated with brief authority, themselves under the always-watchful gaze of glum, grey men hovering in the background.
As I walked the streets of Warsaw, I saw abandoned, slowly-rusting autos nearly every block: Fiat Polski cars whose owners simply walked away when the engine stopped and no spare parts were available.
I looked up at apartment buildings and noticed scores of broken windows covered only with cardboard or paper because no glass panes were available for repairs.
No spare auto parts? No panes of glass? Why? Because the industrial capacity of Poland had been looted by the Soviets, the equipment trucked to destinations closer to Moscow.
Every few blocks I found stagnant, idle construction projects and half-finished buildings. Piles of sand and bags of cement and discarded tools lay abandoned, waiting to be put to use by workers long absent. Some of these abandoned work sites were two years old; it was impossible to find bricks and mortar with which to build.
But the most disturbing sights of all were the out-of-work men; young men and older, sitting on street curbs, knees bent with their feet in the gutter; sometimes twenty or thirty in a row, sitting listlessly on the curbs; unemployed men of all ages, silently smoking pungent cigarettes.
Their heads were downcast. They exchanged no words, no jokes nor jibes nor stories nor laughter as working men do to lighten their burdens. These men were silent, all silent, some with their heads resting on their knees, some with faces buried in their hands.
They said nothing to one another. Instead, as the acrid cigarette smoke hazed over them, they exuded despair and palpable futility as they sat for many hours, day after day, broken in heart and spirit by the lack of work and theft of their dignity.
A Shopper’s Paradise
In a Warsaw square, I noticed a line of people waiting to enter a department store. The waiting line extended up the street from the store entrance and trailed around the corner. A colleague from Warsaw explained to the people in line that I was a visitor from America. People gave me kindly welcome, greeted me with smiles. One man asked if I knew Toledo. His nephew lived in Toledo. In Ohio, he said, smiling at the others, nodding with pride in his eyes because he had a nephew in Toledo, in Ohio.
Suddenly, a woman took me roughly by the elbow and, with energetic gestures and assertive purpose, ushered me to the front of the long line. There, she again explained my visit and, pushing through the crowd, she pulled me into the department store and held out both her arms in a gesture which said to me, “Take a good look at this place … take a good look!”
The store was empty -- completely empty; nothing on the shelves; nothing in the display cases. The store was utterly barren, unlit, no salespersons anywhere…
….and then I realized these patient people in this long line were waiting to enter the department store not to buy kitchen goods or new clothes or bright toys for their children or shiny appliances for their homes -- but to buy only toilet paper. Toilet paper…. one roll per person.
My impromptu hostess stopped a shopper who was just leaving the store, impulsively tore open the shopper’s roll of toilet paper and handed me one sheet. The sheet had the texture of sandpaper. I returned the sheet to the shopper, who took it from me … and left with her roll.
To sum it all up, I saw a noble nation occupied by a ruthless, atheistic invader; a proud culture demeaned by callow cruelties and brutally indifferent dominance.
I saw people stripped of their right to vote, their right to debate or even to disagree with their government. I met people who could not express their talents with the slightest enthusiasm or originality; people deprived not only of basic goods and essential services, but deprived also of their national identity; people forbidden to exercise the rights and responsibilities which we take for granted.
A skeptic might say my experience was an extreme example. If so, I would say, “Read Solzhenitsyn or Sakharov or any of those who lived it … or still do.”
Let us quickly look at socialism’s accomplishments.
One Hundred Years of Marxist Delusions
The Communist Revolution unleashed the longest surviving form of atheistic socialism. It occurred one-hundred-years ago, but its practitioners still enslave and murder millions of human beings. Some nations perpetuate Marxist obscenities: China, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, several others.
Less violent forms of socialism now advance in Canada, in Scandinavian countries and much of Europe --- and in America. Examples of socialist praxis are not difficult to recognize, if one looks with an educated eye.
What is – or should be – extremely worrisome to every informed, intelligent American citizen is a spate of recent research which reports that a majority of young Americans now prefer socialism or communism to capitalism.
A poll by the international firm YouGov in September and October reveals that:
- 51 percent of Americans between the ages of 21 and 29 (the “Millennials”) prefer to live in a socialist or communist country over a capitalist country;
- a majority of these Millennials (56 percent) also reported that they would not be offended if someone accused them of being a Communist;
- fifty three percent reported that America’s economic system is working against them.
Support for socialism is not limited to young people. The report found that among Americans overall, more than one-third (37 percent) would prefer to live in a socialist or communist country.
Political Correctness Greatly Weakens America
In America, socialism advances hand-in-hand with political correctness. Political correctness is actually a Marxist technique dating from the 1920s but it has never been more influential than now – in America. The toxic tenets of political correctness include:
- moral relativism with no absolutes; the practical applications of this principle are corrosive to all Constitutional freedoms, to law and justice, to belief in God and to the beneficial restraints of Judeo-Christian life;
- non-judgmentalism toward any sort of aberrant behavior; anything goes, any behavior is allowed; clearly, this contradicts Nature, tradition, custom, religious belief and basic common sense;
- wide-open, incautious inclusion of any-and-all people in a culture-deadly rush to suicidal diversity; the implications of this idea already lead to violence, the encroaching extinction of cultures and demographic threats to the survival of several European nations;
- the complete autonomy of the individual to decide all aspects of one’s life, including one’s sex and one’s race; we see the absurdities which this has already produced when, for example, Caucasians proclaim themselves Black or someone marries him/herself;
- deliberate attempts to undermine our Constitutional heritage, which is the foundation of our country and is intended to limit government’s intrusive power.
Many people have no idea about -- or refuse to admit -- the inherent dangers to individual human dignity and collective survival which socialism inevitably produces.
Socialism as Political Hydra
Socialism is a shape-shifting system. Some proponents present socialism as a benign and caring problem-solver, ready to bear all burdens and meet all needs, ready and waiting with a basketful of government freebies. Some see it as government helping the poor and elderly …. and so it would seem --- if that were socialism’s end point.
But socialism goes far beyond the superficial allure of its cosmetic largess. It promises extensive welfare programs but inevitably citizens pay dearly for the expansion of benefits. It reaches deeply into the social structure where it spawns incremental losses to human productivity as it nullifies private ownership of businesses and industries.
The eventual devastation to human ingenuity, creativity, dignity and performance can be – often are -- incalculable. And those once-warm-and-fuzzy government welfare programs become economic and moral enslavement for recipients, as we have so often witnessed in America.
The practical outcomes of every form of socialism are clear. No matter how benign at its outset, socialism in practice is not aimed at betterment of individuals but at the expansion and retention of state power and control over people’s choices.
Free Stuff Has A High Price
The rise of socialism is abetted by unrest among naïve, gullible -- and often angry -- people who are seduced by promises of free health care, free education, even free housing – or by promises to end the high profits of the bourgeois rich and violently to bring justice and equality to all. But, sooner or later, the human cost is more than the value received in terms of higher taxes and, far worse, in the deprivations and indignities inflicted upon human beings.
Let us be clear: socialism’s inherent thrust for power inevitably prioritizes government programs over individual rights. It promotes faux-equality which results in numbing sameness and dependence among citizens.
It promotes judicial activism which, among other abuses in our own country, has already re-defined to wretched excess the limits of human freedom and the God-given dignity of life itself.
And, of necessity, entrenched socialism creates an entrenched ruling class which, as power compounds power, is increasingly motivated to perpetuate its own less-than-humble elitism.
The Brutality of Socialism in Practice
And – as history repeats so vividly in our lifetimes -- even greater dangers to individuals and to society must be considered.
The history of Marxism and National Socialism (Nazism) clearly reveals that socialist power has led to the elimination of critics, the entrenchment of punitive laws, state-sponsored violence, complete loss of individual rights, enslavement, persecution and murder of whole races, elimination of moral agencies such as the Church, the persecution of religious believers, destruction of democratic institutions such as the free press, and death to those who speak against socialism’s abuses.
Let us again be clear: socialism’s incursions into American life have already brought about concerning outcomes, as these few examples attest:
- the recent use of government agencies (such as the IRS, the FBI and the CIA, for starters) to silence and persecute government’s critics;
- Federal funding of Planned Parenthood resulting in the deaths of millions of pre-born for the promotion of government’s so-called health benefits for women;
- extensive dependence on Federal welfare programs, especially in black communities;
- loss of local control of education (e.g. Common Core);
- direct threat to Constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms, such as the loss of religious liberty in court decisions which punish bakers and florists who honor their religious belief in traditional man-woman marriage;
- denial of free speech through violent demonstrations on a number of college campuses;
- government promotion of militant homosexuality and transgenderism in public school curricula;
- elimination of natural identities on public documents (e.g., removal of the words “husband” and “wife” from marriage licenses) whereby the state re-defines the very nature of marriage itself;
- on and on and on….. in today’s America…………….
Think It Through --- And Think Again
It matters not whether socialism goes by the name of Progressive or Fascist or Democratic or Marxist or Leftist or Liberal. The socialist’s goals (for starters) are:
- to control the production and the distribution of goods and services which results in control of the economy, of income and prices, of banks and investments;
- to demean, humiliate and eliminate opponents and critics,
- to radically transform and secularize moral traditions and customs of past generations, including restraints on the freedom to practice one’s religion,
- to alter belief systems and re-educate youth at all levels, and
- to assure perpetuation of governance through control of legislatures and courts, media and religious institutions.
The extra-legal and punitive means by which these goals are often achieved should concern every American who values our nation’s original Constitutional commitment to restrain our government officials and protect individual rights, responsibilities and freedoms.
America Is a Grand and Beautiful Reality
Our Bill of Rights was written precisely to contain the urge to power which resides in so many ambitious politicians.
Our Bill of Rights is testament to the truth that power must be controlled by those over whom it is exercised.
Our Bill of Rights recognizes that our trust in our political leaders must be managed by Constitutional control of those leaders to whom we grant power.
Trust our political leaders? Yes, to a point – but let us also uphold Constitutional limits on those to whom we bestow power …. for it we who grant them leadership in the first place.
The combination of power and ambition in any person can be dangerous. This recognition inspires and safeguards our American freedom. And it is the wisdom of our Constitution’s restraints which attests to American exceptionalism.
Let no one denigrate that reality.
If we American voters wish to continue to live by the wisdom of our Constitution and thereby “…to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…,” then -- emphatically -- socialism and its several contemporary allies are not – are NOT -- the way we can, or should, ever proceed.
6 November 2017
An Elder’s Belief
Wannsee, Iceland and Frank Stephens
Freedom For Womankind?
Women are free to choose to give birth or terminate pregnancy. Law allows, whatever the reason.
The woman may be subject to a sense of emotional incompetence or she may find her pregnancy is a hurdle to career advancement. She may feel greatly inconvenienced by fetal presence and may feel much better not to burden herself with the lengthy and demanding tasks of motherhood – not just yet. Not just yet……….
Often enough, the logic goes like this:
“…It is my choice. It is my right to terminate. It is the law of the land that I may choose to rid myself of the fetus I carry. I am free - by law - to eliminate it, to be free of child-bearing burdens. I am free to say “Be gone from me...” I do not have to explain my reasons. I am free to be my own woman. It’s my choice, and it’s no one else’s business...”
Wannsee and The Final Solution
On January 20, 1942, a meeting was held at Wannsee, a lakeside resort outside Berlin, Germany. Fifteen high-ranking Nazi government leaders met to discuss a “final solution” to the so-called Jewish question; what would be done with the Jews of Europe.
This meeting was hosted by Reinhard Heydrich, deputy to Heinrich Himmler, who was head of the SS. Several government leaders, including the secretaries of the Foreign Ministry and Justice, also attended, as did Adolf Eichmann.
The outcome was the coordinated program of mass deportation and subsequent extermination of the Jewish people throughout Europe. It was the first attempt we know of whereby a modern government organized its resources to annihilate human beings simply because of who they were.
Iceland’s Cavalier Achievement
In 2000, the country of Iceland began prenatal testing during which doctors administer a blood test and ultrasound in a Combination Test to determine the likelihood that the fetus will have a genetic disorder.
Since this program’s inception and with counseling for abortion, Iceland has all but eliminated Down Syndrome births. Other nations have followed suit. For example, as of 2015, France had a 77 percent and Denmark a 98 percent termination rate for Down syndrome babies. The BBC also reports that Britain has a 90 percent abortion rate for Down syndrome babies.
Some people consider this deliberate elimination of a class of human beings to be an enlightened policy.
But let us also realize that some people do not stop with the elimination of Down Syndrome babies. Indeed, many people hold that all life – all life -- in the womb is subject to the same treatment.
Just being alive is, they believe, sufficient reason for termination of that life.
Exquisite Clarity, A Rarity In Our World
If you do nothing else this day, you will be well advised to listen to, then ponder, the following testimony of Mr. Frank Stephens as he addresses a recent Congressional Committee hearing.
His comments are a “Must Listen….”
The link to: Mr. Stephens’ powerful witness to life
30 October 2017
An Elder’s Voice: Part Two
If We Knew Then What We Know Now…
I remember the first time I had an exquisitely painful pre-teen crush on a young lady. She barely noticed me. No wonder: I was shy and chubby, she was glorious; an angel, a rare and stunning orchid amid the homely thistles and raucous rabble of eighth-grade classmates.
I was in pre-pubescent thrall as I watched her walk and talk and smile and frown. Just watching her move was proof that God existed….
With no warning, she started dating a high school freshman. He was dreadfully sophisticated; one of those morosely cool, detached guys; aloof and self-absorbed with that supercilious air of superiority which, for some bewildering reason, appeals to women who salivate over uppity men (or boys, as the case may be).
A few days later, I saw them holding hands. I was crushed, entwined in self-pity, wretched beyond recovery, bereft of consolation or hint of redemption. Was this divine retribution? Was I to spend adolescence in a bleak, girl-friend-less future?
My parents quickly noticed my drooping ego and sagging spirits. They told me (with their accustomed, casual wisdom) to “get over it” and count my blessings. My Mother reassured me: “We love you, Son.” My Father added that “…loving someone takes a lot of time and patience. Love can hurt… but that’s how you learn to grow up and be a man. Your time will come...”
Then he added. “Now, get over it…”
From Pain, Learning
Many decades later, I recognize the wisdom of my parents’ counsel and the depth of their insight. I have learned the value of personal loss as necessary prelude to cautious survival before one is swept away by instinctive impulses and itchy urges.
Now, I know painful experience is a must, if we are ever to achieve a smidgeon of wisdom-beyond-knowledge.
Now, I also realize that few torments are worse in life than love unrequited. Few events drain our dignity and hope as when someone we love turns away. Indeed, some Christian theologians define Hell as the absence of God’s Love, made worse by awareness that we had a choice -- and we blew it.
We regularly abuse the word ‘love.’ Some people “love” Chinese food and furry animals. Some love all two hundred of their best friends. Some “love” shopping for sales and, oh yes, we love our children and spouses (bless their hearts) and we love God .. and our neighbor, too….
Agape And Benevolence
The ancient Greeks were more discerning and precise. They used specific words to identify the sources of their attractions, from the self-serving indulgences of eros to the highest form of love – the love called agape (ah’-ga-pay). Agape -- that’s what we’re concerned about here.
The agape kind of love is best defined as “selfless benevolence,” a form of loving which belongs uniquely within the context of human relationships.
In Christian terms, agape refers to the theological virtue of Charity. But Christian Charity is far more than merely giving money to the poor. It is personal benevolence as a life style – loving other persons in selfless ways.
The Facts About Benevolence
Benevolence is definitely not a matter of feelings. It is a deliberate commitment which often contradicts how we “feel” or what we want. Often, benevolence grants no public acclaim; it does not play to the crowd.
Benevolence starts by wishing no harm or injury to anyone, even if we have been harmed. It does not allow us to harbor “Yes, but” symptoms. But benevolence is not spineless timidity. It does not exclude justice. It does not diminish the necessity of law nor minimize personal responsibility. It does not discount accountability, nor does it downplay moral imperatives. No way.
Benevolence urges us to respect order but it also urges us to go beyond our baser instincts and limitations to the point of wishing all people - the just and the unjust - peace and goodness in mind and spirit, in body and soul …... no matter what.
And here is the hardest part: Benevolence nurtures forgiveness, even when disappointment floods the heart, stuns the mind, and tarnishes trust. At such times, the habit of benevolence lifts us above the tug of bitterness or the desire for revenge, and saves us from the grip of self-pitying victimhood.
Benevolence also inspires us to swallow our pride, to put aside self-righteous rants and do what we can to see that other persons are helped or healed or uplifted. If necessary, we sacrifice time and energy so that others may benefit and be well. More than that, we are moved to hold no long-running grudges, moved to seek no retaliation, to harbor no hatred, to wish others no ill fortune …… and that’s hard.
Benevolence gives us insight into our human condition; the vagaries of our fallen human nature become clear to us. We realize we are all subject to temptation and wayward impulses, yet we yearn for meaning, yearn for purpose, yearn to express good will toward others.
Thus, does benevolence beget spirituality -- a search inward and outward for meaning beyond our limited selves. As we search, a Reality greater than ourselves is revealed. Faith follows, and supplies us with clear moral vision, a selfless attitude which prompts acts of zealous generosity and determination.
We learn to willingly let go of our defensive, punitive, self-serving egos, so that we may seek a more stable, less selfish identity.
How About Me…..?
Benevolent love for others requires respect for one’s self. Intelligent self-respect is not the cheap-and-cheesy sort of counterfeit self-esteem rampant in today’s limp-willed, morally adrift, politically correct culture.
True self-respect attends to one’s inherent moral value and dignity while humbly accepting one’s human limitations. It means that we are not toting around hang-dog symptoms of useless guilt nor are we out for revenge. It means we love ourselves – not narcissistically, but with intelligent humility – as we hope to love others and to be loved.
Benevolent love is intended to be a permanent state, not a moment of exuberant largess, soon exhausted. It does not fade with costly sacrifice or revelations of someone’s unsavory secrets or the loss of cocktail party friends.
Love For Family and Stranger
Loving one’s family, relatives and friends is usually not a problem. But how about benevolence and good will toward strangers and enemies, whoever they are?
If we are truly inspired by Christian values, we cannot then ignore the mandate to love one another, even strangers, even those we find unlikeable. We are challenged to extend benevolence and goodwill even to strangers, even to our enemies, as well as to our family at hand, and (most difficult for many people) to ourselves.
Is any of this possible? I believe so. For evidence, I often look to the One Who serves as the model for us all: He Who unhesitatingly forgave His “enemies” even as He died, that we might be moved by His undying Love.
Yes, it is possible – if we so choose……
25 October 2017
An Elder’s Voice: Part One
As I have been aging these last few years, I have started to notice small events and passing realities and people around me whom I have ignored in the past or overlooked for a lifetime.
For example, as I walked into the post office yesterday, I held the door for an elderly man (at least, he looked older than me). He walked with a cane, and moved very slowly, with great effort. He grimaced as he walked, and his face revealed the pain thriving behind his glasses which lay thick and heavy upon the bridge of his nose.
But when he saw me holding the door for him, his face changed immediately. He smiled and said, “Thank you, thank you,” in a rousing, grateful voice, a sincere voice which touched me and made me glad I had waited for him.
I went about my postal business, picked up the mail, then headed to the door and started to leave. But I suddenly held up, remembering that elder from seconds ago. I looked around but could not see him, so I went to my car – and I waited. A few minutes later, the gentleman came out of the post office, walking with his cane, slowly, ever so slowly ….. and painfully. As I watched him, it was apparent that pain is his constant companion, for as he walked, he would stop every few yards, rest briefly, and then, with head down, would start up again, moving slowly to a vehicle in which a grey-haired woman awaited behind the wheel.
They drove off… and I was suddenly aware of this man’s courage; this unknown, brave man whose name I did not know but whose path I had just crossed. I was aware that he lived in pain and that a short walk to a post office was a significant event in his aging life.
And I was moved to admire him for his courage. I was moved to think of the courage of so many people – some I know and love deeply, most I do not know at all; so many people who value life and hold onto life in quiet ways; people who choose to live in pain, with patience and hope and quiet dignity, such that most of us shall never know how courageous they truly are.
Such courage, I thought, is all around me, but it is not common and, often, is hidden behind patient smiles which mask great bravery and perseverance. Such bravery is, indeed, uncommon -- yet it is there, all around us …… if we but look and see and learn to revere life and one another.
And I was grateful that I held the door for the brave man whose name I do not know.
19 October 2017
Doing Good Is Costly … But Free …
Recently I eavesdropped (I could not resist) on a heated conversation between two high school girls. Their dilemma: should they tell a naïve friend her beau was hitting on other girls at school? Should they tell their friend the painful truth - or hide it from her, leaving her vulnerable to the embarrassment and humiliation inevitably to follow? Should they expose the lie or, by their silence, further it?
Tough judgment call. Or is it.
Ethical quandaries are frequent in daily life. Some people are smart enough to know when to take counsel, when to consult morally mature elders, when to pray for guidance, when to act - even if risk or conflict are involved.
Other people sidestep the tug of conscience and shrug off moral decisions. They mute the voices of altruism and fidelity; instead, they opt for denial and avoidance - and choose to be morally neutered.
For many of us, avoidance of moral responsibility works just fine -- for a while. But reality hovers. Try as we may, we cannot isolate ourselves from the laws of the moral universe into which we are born. And if, at some point, we wish to become mature persons, to grow up and dispel the infantile allure of toxic ego-centrism, we must choose virtue, for maturity is defined by stable moral behavior.
But wait …... How do any of us really know what is morally right and what is wrong? Where is it written? Who is wise enough to make it clear to us what we should do?
The answer? We learn! We learn from myriad sources of virtue and goodness all around us. Sources of wisdom overflow in the moral universe.
We learn from parents and grandparents, from other family members and insightful elders, from teachers and pastors and history itself. We learn from the good example of morally clear-headed friends, from the unruly truancy of reckless playmates. And we learn especially well by suffering the consequences of our own errant behavior. Indeed, life teaches us that personal pain is the truest path to virtue and, in time, to the wisdom which maturity offers.
Adulthood is designed by Nature as the culminating stage in the development of our moral maturity. Our lives are aimed at achieving moral maturity, which is characterized by mastery of wisdom and by self-restraint. Moral maturity means that we act wisely, with goodness and virtue, with discipline and other virtues which identify us as morally reliable adults.
We are given a lifetime to choose right from wrong, decent from indecent, good from evil, virtue from sin. We will err along the way, make serious mistakes as we learn, but we are born to be moral persons.
Humility? Are You Kidding?
Not every adult grows up to be a morally mature person. Moral maturity never favors the haughty or self-absorbed. Why? Because humility in thought and action is essential for maturity. Self-absorption is a moral dead end and haughtiness stifles humility. Humility has no room for such self-indulgence.
But ….. humility is vastly misunderstood So, let’s be very clear about what humility really involves.
The word “humility” comes from the Latin word for “earth.” And here is the crucial point: Humility is not a servile, toe-in-the-dust attitude. It is not slavish, nor is it eyes-downcast, hat-in-hand, stammering, self-demeaning drivel.
Humility really means we have deep roots in the ground of truth. Our heads are held high and our feet are planted solidly in the soil of reality, not in the shifting sands of self-delusion or the camouflage of preening false modesty. Humility grants us spiritual strength to strip away haughty exaggeration, so that moral clarity may emerge. Humility teaches us never to fake or pretend, never to erect facades or to deceive. It pursues selfless benevolence in one’s intentions and grants readiness to overcome the puerile tantrums and pride-filled excesses of a deluded ego.
Humility respects and upholds truths about oneself and - sometimes, with awkward candor – the truth about others. But humility is neither brash nor punitive, neither domineering nor superior .. even when hard truths and hurtful issues must be faced.
There are, of course, precarious situations in life when not speaking is the more humane course. Sometimes, truth is too much for some to bear. Some people spend a lifetime hiding from truths which are, for them, too painful. Then, humility calls upon wisdom and prudence, temperance and charity as guides to caution and kindness.
Virtue Becomes Habitual
Another of moral maturity’s blessings is the gift of wisdom. Wisdom clarifies the ways in which various virtues are appropriate and timely. Wisdom offers us moral focus, intellectual direction and an enlightened heart. Wisdom opens the door to virtues such as kindness, truth, faith, justice, self-restraint, hope, prudence, fortitude, patience, humility, perseverance and a slew of others.
These virtues are extremely practical -- as well as indispensable -- for a morally and psychologically healthy life. But growing in virtue has a cost. As we respond to the promptings of virtue, we will pay the price of choosing what is morally right – and that price can be costly.
We can, of course, avoid the price. We can choose to be narcissistic and lustful, punitive and hurtful, greedy and dismissive. Or we can choose to be beneficent and generous, altruistic and truthful, kind and respectful.
Is There A Problem ?
All this talk about virtue, morality and so forth may sound nice and make sense to some of us. But there are doubters who believe this is pie-in-the-sky thinking.
To doubters and atheists, dissenters and cynics, this is really only brainwashing, honey-tongued palaver; shallow excuses for pretending righteousness, especially in today’s world where “virtue signaling” is a cheap trick.
In fact, virtue -- and virtuous people -- are often scorned by skeptics and belittled by nay-sayers. Many sophisticated cynics and sarcastic critics dismiss these ideas with urbane superiority - and a knowing snort. “Virtue? Pleasse!!!!” Why does virtue seem so passe’ or quaint to so many?
Let’s face it. Today’s world is profoundly influenced by pay-to-play schemes and shifting, sound-bite values. A rancid string of scandalous behavior by political leaders and clerics and business moguls has reduced discussions of virtue to a hollow, contradictory rant.
Moreover, moral relativism thrives by telling us that we may do whatever pleases us, and forget the consequences. Our culture allows just about anything, as long as no one gets caught or is sued or exposed in the media. Duplicity jolly well works.
Worse, for decades a Culture of Death has reduced the sanctity of the human person to a tedious cliché. Abortion and doctor-assisted suicide have gravely diminished the dignity and value of human life. In addition, we now see deceitful, multi-gendered rejections of Nature’s basic dictates in education, government, religion and, sadly, in family. We are gods-unto-ourselves, flaunting the limits of Nature and the laws of God; declaring that we, and we alone, shall decide what is reality and what is best for us.
To the moral relativist, indifference, convenience, subterfuge and contrivance are norms. Truth is jettisoned or re-defined as situations demand. Male is female, black is Caucasian, and some folks marry themselves. Words no longer have meaning; facts are irrelevant. Relationships become combat zones for profit and infidelity. The bizarre is normalized and freakish perversity is applauded.
Moral relativism and its cohort, Political Correctness, demean our shared humanity, de-stabilize our young and corrupt our leaders.
So Where To Now?
Wisdom demands that our actions be in sync with the moral universe into which we are born. The moral universe requires 1) our respect for all human beings 2) our virtuous observance of Nature’s laws and limits, and like it or not, 3) a reverent and prayerful relationship with God, Creator of all.
It is God - not us - Who created the moral universe into which we are born, in which we live and breathe and have our being.
It is God, our Creator, Who gives us the power to choose virtue over debasement and wisdom over self-destruction.
Without God, virtue becomes an empty slogan. Morality is meaningless and without purpose. Human rights are decided by physical clout or psychological influence. Pathology smiles.
Without God, we are accountable to no one, not bound by any relationship. Trust, love, friendship, fidelity, even patriotism have no meaning. Without God, we have no moral responsibility to anyone except as society (itself a contrivance) dictates. Coldness and indifference are entirely suitable. Convenience and comfort and disdain for one another are routine.
If we deny God, we deny God’s Creation -- and ourselves. It is that basic. Without God, Creation itself is meaningless – and so are we.
The Obvious Choice
For these (and so many other) reasons, the laws of God’s moral universe serve a clear and essential role in all human affairs – and particularly in the lives of individuals who seek identity and direction and purpose and mental health during their time on this earth. I may not change nations but I can surely give myself to a cause greater than all others, the cause of goodness.
Virtue exists to ignite our universal capacity to make the human experience far more humane. The choice - and cost - of virtue are our only paths to peace and security.
These ideals are attainable but only with effort, for human nature is not -- of itself and by itself -- drawn to virtue. But history does tell us, time and again, that human beings are capable of moral maturity, of deep intimacy and kindness, of wondrous generosity and life-saving altruism, of virtuous choices galore.
We are - if we choose - capable of the highest acts of love and the finest acts of courage and the most moving acts of forgiving and a panoply of virtuous choices which – if we choose -- define us as moral creatures under God. These views are not popular these days, yet the fact remains: life is a matter of choices and the moral universe is our home.
Every life is filled with moral choice-points. Even small choices add up to a life of choices.
For each and all of us, life itself is a choice.
9 October 2017
THE PRICE WE PAY FOR THE PRICELESS
The Las Vegas killer: Madness? Evil? Both?
We ask one another: How could he do such a thing? How could anyone choose to attack innocent persons?
Outrage and bewilderment stir our national morality. Senseless! Astonishing disregard for human lives!!
Next, we ponder how to prevent such evil? How can we stem calculated, callous cruelty? What to do?
Some angrily declare, “Bump stock control! That’s it!! And stricter gun control!!! And those video games!!!! And increase the death penalty!!!!!”
Finally, we seek blame. Republicans are always in the accusers’ crosshairs, as are cautious Conservatives. One celebrity daughter suggests putting murderous members of the NRA before a firing squad.
Others of less fevered rhetoric point to conflicts between passion and fact. They note the gaps between legislation and repetitive, if less-publicized, gun tragedies, such as occur weekly on the streets of Chicago or the fact that so much gun violence is solitary and suicidal.
All people of good will reject violence. We wish solutions were readily at hand. We wish kindness and virtue were to be found in every relationship. Would that we heeded the wisdom of our Elders, so that kindness toward one another abounded in our souls and in those near to us and far from us.
But an ugly truth of human nature tells us that, all too often, violence is a deliberate choice. Violence in our words, in our attitudes, in our behavior, in our arrogant treatment of others, in our abuse of their dignity – these are choices we make.
Violence in its many harsh forms --- and in its many subtle forms, too --- is, for many people, a choice which is more satisfying that kindness.
WHEN VIOLENCE SUFFICES
In 1989 I was a presenter at a week-long conference in Warsaw, Poland. The topic was Altruism and Its Role in Human Affairs. We explored ways in which human beings demonstrate our concern in mind, heart and behavior for the good of other persons. We also probed reasons why Altruism and Empathy were so formidably, so aggressively foreign to so many of our fellow human beings.
The conference had been organized by a colleague who, as a child, had survived the dreadful Nazi occupation of Poland. Many of the presenters had also lived through years of Nazi occupation. Then, ironically, Poland became an occupied satellite of another violent oppressor, the Soviet Union. First, National Socialism – Nazism – had ruled Poland. Then Soviet Communism smothered the nation for decades longer. As one participant put it, ”…We have gone from one despot to another...”
When the conference ended, I journeyed south to Krakow. From there, I drove to the Nazi extermination camp known as Auschwitz.
Auschwitz is now an historical site. In the 1940s it was the largest of the Nazi extermination camps and killing centers; a diabolic place of unfathomable violence against innocents; a place of torture and misery and violent death.
For several days I walked the gravel paths of Auschwitz. It was, as you may imagine, an eerie place, silent save for the occasional small groups of people I encountered. But there were moments which stained my memory as I met survivors of this terrible place, people I did not know and never met again, people who touched my soul and burrowed into my memory in ways others have never done in all the decades of my life.
I walked the gravel paths alone. At one point I came upon a family, gathered silently 'round an aged figure -- a woman weeping helplessly on the ground. She, an elderly Jewish grandmother, was once a prisoner in this wretched camp. Now, alive still, she visited the place of her confinement more than half-a-century earlier. She was, as she had done all her adult life, still mourning her lost loved ones, her family, murdered there while she lived.
She had collapsed, fallen to the earth, and her family stood around her, encircling her, silent, bound together by their impotence to console her or somehow to embrace her or somehow to assuage her grief, somehow to comfort her. The woman was so drained by her sadness, so o’erwhelmed by her grief that she could not walk. And for a time she lay upon the ground, her grief inconsolable as she mourned her dead family, all of whom had been killed in the gas chambers many years earlier.
Her whole body was heaving as she sobbed, but she wept soundlessly, for her grief was so deep -- so deep within her -- that her tears could not escape... and she could utter no sound, just a deep, strangled heaving of sorrow, a sound I have never forgotten.
She held her hands high in the air, as if reaching to heaven, to touch her lost ones, while her living relatives stood helplessly next to her, encircling her, embracing her, reaching out to her in unheard whispers of consolation, weeping as one family, weeping with her, in a vision I shall never erase from my mind.
A VISION OF HUMANKIND
I have photos of my few days at Auschwitz; photos of the ovens where corpses were burned after the Nazis had gassed people -- innocents all -- to death. Prisoners, mostly Jews from all over Europe, were stripped naked and herded into what looked like a large shower room. When doors were locked, poison gas, not water, flowed from overhead facets. When these victims stopped moving, other inmates – sonderkommandos, special units, acting under threat of their own deaths – salvaged gold teeth and other “valuables.”
So many people were killed that, at one point, the ovens could not keep up with the total of dead, and broke down.
I visited the cells of prisoners, among them the cell of a Catholic priest, Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, who volunteered to die in place of a man who had a family; he gave up his life so that this family man could live. The inside of the wooden cell doors of some of Fr. Kolbe’s fellow prisoners were criss-crossed with streaks made by the fingernails of prisoners as they sought - desperately but to no avail -- to claw their way out of their suffering. I saw the tiny cells, no larger than a hallway closet, into which prisoners were forced (sometimes upside down) until they smothered one another.
I saw the laboratories of Dr. Josef Mengele, a physician who used little children for his cruel, useless experiments. I saw the courtyards where Jewish prisoners were executed solely because they were Jews.
On the walls of the headquarters building, I saw countless photos of the faces of frightened young children, some as young as four and five years old. These little ones, torn from the arms of their parents on arrival, were dressed in striped prison uniforms, their tiny heads shaved to the skull, their eyes terrified. Underneath their photos the Nazis had printed the "crime" each Jewish child had committed: "Enemy of the State."
I viewed several rooms, from floor to ceiling behind glass walls, filled with gold teeth and shorn human hair, and reading glasses, and suitcases still unopened, and shoes in huge piles, all taken from victims, many of whom – whole families - were simply starved to death or sent immediately to the gas chambers.
And there was so much more, so much more …………….
WE ALWAYS HAVE A CHOICE
As I walked those paths and saw what evil and violence could do to people, I thought this place must have been in its day as close to Hell as one can imagine on this earth.
Auschwitz and places like it -- and the people who make violence possible -- stand as necessary and painful reminders (still too often unheeded) of what we humans are capable of doing to one another – if we choose to forsake benevolence and turn from kindness.
As I reflect on my days in Auschwitz, it often seems to me that we humans are still in our moral infancy. We so easily eschew the guidelines of kindness, so handily dismiss the call of virtue, so often overlook the humane urge to care for one another in lovingly unselfish ways.
We humans can (and many of us will) choose to create places – and relationships -- in which misery overcomes all else.
We can choose to inflict hurt and selfishness on those around us, perhaps on those who rely on us, who seek to love us, even those who should be able to trust us and depend on our benevolence and generosity of spirit.
We can choose such personal modes of violence.
The lasting message from Auschwitz is that the basic principles of kindness and justice and candor and humility are essential for us all, if we are to love rightly and honor the life we share, and respect one another.
SO WHERE TO NOW?
To this day, I still remember that Jewish grandmother, her sobs stifled by her sorrow, as she rocked back and forth, back and forth, in the dust of that dreadful place. She could utter no sound nor cry, so thoroughly entwined was she by her grief. Her kneeling relatives attempted to hold her, to embrace her, to somehow comfort her as she again mourned the loss of her loved ones, still held fast by her sorrow, a sorrow so deep that nothing -- not time nor fading memory nor the helpless, futile consolations of those who loved her -- could possibly ease or lessen it.
Very few of us will ever personally know such suffering of heart or soul, nor will we experience the causes from which it sprang. But we always have a choice to hasten the end of such woe for others in our lives by our kindness toward them and our choice for benevolence in our own lives.
Every choice for kindness, for goodness, for care and decency toward others is a choice for benevolence which is, in itself, a moral good devoutly to be pursued.
God help us never to be a source of violence or needless sorrow to others.
1 October 2017
I Can’t Help But Wonder…
What person -- living or dead -- do you most admire and revere? Who is your role model for kindness and clarity, for self-restraint and authentic love? Who inspires you to be a morally thoughtful, intelligently critical person? What individual has had most impact on your decisions? Whose virtues and ethical values sway you when you make decisions? Whose wisdom and insight, more than anyone else’s, have helped you become who you are up to now? Who encouraged you to be independent, then sustained you when you made mistakes and endured failure? Who praised you when you succeeded? Who confronted you and told you the truth when you needed to be reined in from your precipitous indiscretions? Who, by years of risk and effort, has paid a price for loving you?
In most lives, there are not many persons who have been that irreplaceable, whose persistence has been that ceaseless, whose commitment to virtue has been that unwavering. There are not many persons whose lasting impact upon our mind and our spirit is undeniable, whose love for us is beyond doubt. But they are there.
Where To Start…..
Many of us would surely start with our parents. We might first recall our Mother, whose loving reminders gave us ceaseless proof of the irreplaceable brand of a Mother’s goodness which only a womanly soul can offer a child in this world.
We might include our Father, whose occasionally stern rule always rested on a deeper, not-always-evident kindliness; the sort of man whose care (and worry) always hovered near the surface of his patient but edgy, ever-watchful mind.
Perhaps we might recall a memorable teacher or a demanding coach who taught us -- with patient but insistent rigor -- that yesterday’s achievements were merely the next obstacles to be bettered and surpassed. Perhaps, we were then put to the test and treated as if success were ordinary -- when we earned it with extraordinary effort, endless preparation, intense focus and countless years of work, sweat and toil. Then, no biggie…….
Maybe we were blessed with a perceptive mentor, i.e., with a person who was older, wiser and far more experienced in work and in living. Perhaps our mentor had mastered what we yearned to know, shared with us what we yearned to learn, knew when to let us fail … then restored our trust in ourselves and moved us beyond failure’s humiliation to requisite but balanced humility, which is the foundation of true competence, the beginning of maturity and the core of character.
Who Were My Heroes?
I well-remember my Father and Mother. He was a man of stern, sterling character who never backed away from moral principle, even when it cost him dearly in his work. My Father had a stunning intellect, a superior talent in mathematics and an instant’s grasp of complex issues which has rarely been matched in my lifetime.
Mother was a gem amongst women, a friend to so many persons, especially to women bewildered by life, to whom she restored hope. She was of steely temperament. Her quiet but pointed expressions of disgust at unkindness melted hardened minds and prompted meanness to seek cover.
These two good people still live in me to this day, each complementing the other’s contribution. My delight in knowing them abounds to this day, and my gratitude for being loved by them overshadows the years of missing them.
If, after counting the blessings of our earliest family influences, we have also married well and lovingly, then our gratitude is duly renewed and daily blessed by a spouse who adds to the stability of life and the ineffable reality of loving and being loved. Again, I am blessed; once again, I am indeed blessed in Marriage.
Marriage and Meaning
For some of us, the Sacrament of Matrimony -- Marriage -- is the sole state of life dedicated to the development of mutual goodness and beneficial humility in a man and a woman willingly united before God and the human community.
Marriage is, ideally, the crowning, sacred relationship in which men and women can, together in humility, find the point of life itself. Marriage provides the ground upon which we can build the virtue which is essential to all lasting human relationships, i.e., the Virtue of Trust.
Marriage is the place in which we learn Trust of self and Trust of the other. To what end?
So that we may maintain fidelity and integrity in all their forms and guises, with the strength and unity of purpose which humility inspires, grace assists and honesty informs.
But when egos run wild and humility is eclipsed in a marriage, then married life can be a source of mutual pain and routine abuse, a cauldron of mental anguish and moral decay.
So, why is Trust the most essential virtue in any stable and worthy marital relationship?
Because we cannot love -- freely and fully, without qualification or doubt -- anyone whom we do not first trust. Marriage as a union before God and our community means we love and are loved with intimacy of soul, with fullness of heart and with wholeness of our life’s purpose. As the price of that union, we must learn to relinquish part of ourselves, that part of self to which our egos cling. That’s where humility counts. Union with the other; humility; letting go of our ego’s foot-stomping self-centeredness; candor and mutuality: these are the virtues hard-working Marriage relationships demand.
A Marriage relationship receives its dignity, is made whole and is daily re-consecrated to God by acts of mutual loving and mutual self-abnegation. It is made holy by our choice to love another human being and to be loved by that person. But loving and being loved so fully and so freely is impossible if we do not first learn to trust the other, and learn to be trustworthy ourselves for the other.
Marriage is the defining event of adult life. It is the foundation upon which we may find our life’s true identity, shorn of pretense and stripped of the messy need to impress. Marriage inspires us to unleash the kindness in our spirit and become the person we were born to become. We do this most effectively by loving our spouse wholeheartedly … and by being loved, mutually and exclusively, by that chosen spouse, then embracing (not merely tolerating) whatever that singularly precious relationship may reveal and demand -- for a lifetime.
The Centrality of Trust
Marital trust can best be built when certain virtues are mutually upheld as constant ideals. Trust between husband and wife can best be defined and maintained 1) if they share the same moral principles, 2) if they are mutually willing to let themselves be at ego-risk with each other, and 3) if they are mutually willing-and-able to communicate and to resolve their problems and challenges with one mind, with humility and candor and clarity. If they do not know how to acquire and practice these traits, they learn…………… together, they learn.
As the years pass, marriage will always ask much of us, but will give more to us. And it is a humble, yet eminently wise, spouse who will give more to the beloved than asked to give, and who will take less than allowed to take.
And so it goes…..
The years pass, and as we age, we become greyer and, perhaps, a tad paunchy (here and there). We walk a bit slower and use the railings more often when we climb stairs. And as we age, we enter (willingly or not) into the Kingdom of Elders, where we are sometimes honored (but less often than we might wish). And then it may become clear to some of us Elders that – all of a sudden – those earlier questions now apply to us. So, we might wonder and ask ourselves:
- Am I a person to be admired and revered? If so, about what? Am I a role model for kindness and clarity, for self-restraint and authentic, sometimes tough, love?
- Do I inspire anyone – anyone at all -- to be a better, morally thoughtful, intelligently critical person?
- Am I a person of virtue and ethical values?
- Does my wisdom and insight (such as it is) help anyone – anyone at all - become a better person?
- Do I help others to be independent? Do I sustain and comfort them when they endure failure and praise them when they succeed?
- Do I confront my loved ones with benign frankness and tell them truths which they should hear from me?
- Through years of risk and effort, have I paid the price of loving in ways which honor those I love and reveal my heart’s hopes and my fervent, if tattered, good will?
We probably have our own answers -- but one does wonder what others might say... if, that is, we asked ………………….
19 September 2017
Morals, Anyone . . . . .
It is clear: we humans cannot NOT communicate. Why? Because we are thinking all the time. We take in sights and sounds and impressions all the time. Our brains chatter away as we filter information at one level of awareness or another. This process creates energy. We release our energy in a uniquely human way: communication.
Much of what we think about is, of course, superficial stuff, insignificant flotsam, silly jetsam, fleetingly considered, quickly dismissed. But some information catches our attention. It fits our developing values. So, we absorb it. We label it “important.” It’s worth keeping. We internalize it, store it away, make it our own.
Over time, this stored information melds into a set of working principles. These principles form our attitudes, dictate how we think, what we believe and what we value. They dig in so deep that we are often oblivious to their power over us and their tenacity within us. They even influence our behavior and, all too soon, they define our character. And character tells the world what we are made of, reveals who we really are.
But other people also think and communicate. From birth, we have to deal with those other people -- and they have to deal with us. That’s because our lives are a series of relationships, brief or life-long, with other human beings. And in our relationships, we come face-to-face and soul-to-soul with our moral nature, and with the demands and consequences of morality.
Each of our relationships has a moral component. Each involves mutual rights and mutual responsibilities. We all have inalienable rights (as our Constitution states). These rights come with human nature and are given to us by God. At the same instant, we all have responsibilities to one another. These responsibilities come with our rights. It’s a package deal. The two -- rights and responsibilities -- are as inseparable as the two sides of the same hand.
These ideas spark several basics points:
- It comes as a shock to some to realize that all morality rests on the simple fact that we are accountable to others.
- It baffles some to learn that we are all born into a human community. There, we all have mutual responsibilities to one another, including strangers half-a-world away.
- We are accountable for what we do and for how our actions may have an impact on others. Even “white lies” have consequences.
- Accountability to others – to God, to loved ones and to strangers -- is the foundation of all morality. It is the human link which binds us all, individually and collectively.
Moral considerations are inseparable from our relationships with one another and with God. This moral dimension defines us as humans. Morality pervades our lives. And since we live in multiple relationships, our moral selves are always on call.
The question then becomes: How alert and responsive are we to that call?
The problem is that many of us do not always think straight or rationally. We do not always communicate effectively nor di we act with consistent moral acuity. We possess the human potential to do these things, that’s for sure. The good news is that we have a lifetime to learn how to bring our potential to reality. In fact, Life is all about learning how to be rational, morally consistent thinkers and doers.
It’s no surprise that, even as adults, many of us do not become wise enough to meet these challenges. Some of us do not even learn to ask the right questions, such as:
- How do I measure the nature and gravity of my moral responsibilities?
- What roles do my motives play?
- When am I morally accountable?
- To whom?
- For what actions?
The answers vary, of course (and we will examine these issues in times to come). The underlying moral reality is that every one of us is accountable to others. Every single one of us is a moral agent, bound by the bonds of accountability to our shared humanity. Yes, we do have rights, but only as they are balanced by the awareness that the other person’s rights also count and are a matter of our interconnected responsibilities to one another.
Dissenters abound. Indeed, some folks say these ideas are nonsense. “The world is what it is,” they insist. “Get yours quick and get yours first. Get all you can before the selfish people get here,” they advise. “Other people are competitors, so it is weakness to waste my moral concern on them. I’m no prude, so let’s not get too scrupulous about these things. Someone must get ahead, so it might as well be me. Life is full of grey areas. Survival First, that’s my motto. And, after all, business is business….” On and on… There is no doubt that reasonable caution is necessary and legitimate in our wounded world. Identity theft is rampant. terrorists gleefully murder innocents. Immorality is, for many, an admired lifestyle.
Still, in our self-centered society, much conflict and harm are indeed needless and avoidable. We all lose when behavior is tediously self-serving and embarrassingly narcissistic. No one is better or safer when a person fosters his greed or flaunts his preening ego-centrism. Vice, attractive to some, harms all.
Wisdom tells us to be aware when our out-of-kilter pride blinds us to virtue’s call. Wisdom advises us not to construct huffy defense mechanisms to protect our ego’s over-active fragility. Wisdom urges us not to defend ourselves against healthy truths and to be honest with ourselves about our motives. Wisdom seeks beneficial realities and challenging encounters which may benefit our moral maturity. And wisdom counsels us to seek Truth with humility.
Yes, we are citizens of this wounded world. Even so, we certainly do possess the potential for good beyond what we may yet know.
Yes, we do indeed possess that potential….. and, truth be told, Life awaits.
17 September 2017
Thou Shalt Indeed Make Judgments
A growing number of people are swallowing “politically correct” (PC) ideas. Many of these ideas are extreme and intolerant. As a rule, PC adherents are closed to discussing facts and principles, and they rebuff dialogue. They specialize in “virtue signaling” by establishing their own moral superiority whilst trashing dissenters.
Some PC believers want to give non-citizens (some of whom are devoutly violent) equal rights in the educational, social and financial fabric of America. Many PC’ers hold that moral equivalency and moral neutrality should erase traditional moral principles. Many PC adherents apply accusatory labels (homophobe, Islamophobe, hate speaker) to demean and intimidate opponents. Many hold that Constitutional freedoms are unimportant when it comes to” equality” for minorities.
A common PC outlook says that Constitutional principles interfere with “human rights” and should be overturned. Those who seek dialogue and clarity are accused of delaying change. And we now hear that a person can change her sex and race as he/she/it wishes, since Nature and one’s birth have nothing to do with it. We are also told that people who uphold the law are brutal racists.
Where is the factual evidence for these beliefs? PC’ers will us that their feelings are their facts. Feelings are more important than history or logic which are, by the way, tools of the oppressor.
As a result of all this, delusions and excesses are normalized, brutality in language and behavior is accepted, logic and history are abandoned and American exceptionalism is now passé.
PC spokespersons seek the moral high ground. They use the rhetoric of victimhood and accuse opponents of being cold-hearted racial bigots. Christians are often useful targets.
These PC beliefs and strategies are gaining immense cultural coinage. In addition, their cumulative weight erodes Constitutional protections and depicts self-righteous puffery as a national virtue.
Much of our public discourse in politics, the media and entertainment -- even in religion and daily conversation -- has become accusatory, unrestrained, often vicious, foul and bitter. Standards of objectivity and fairness fall to the impulsive rhetoric of partisanship. Reportage is suspect. One can no longer trust television and newspapers which, more often than not, are politically propagandistic.
Overt hostility to moral traditions - even to patriotism - is now sold as a sign of PC’s elitist moral insight. Even sports have become a venue in which highly-paid, historically ignorant athletes “protest how America treats black people and people of color...”
Some PC adherents find certain ideas so shocking that exposure requires cocoa therapy. One current example, ludicrous and risible, is the Snowflake Syndrome. Its victims, notably college students, report being traumatized by the normal frictions of intellectual inquiry. Administrators and faculty -- adults in age, if not wisdom – sympathetically adjudge certain academic events too taxing for Snowflakes. Their intellectual injuries require a “safe place” in which to soothe shaken psyches. Thus, their universities afford them a protected shelter in which they may safely hug teddy bears and sip cocoa from pre-warmed teacups.
The Snowflake Syndrome is only the latest daffy crest in the PC wave swamping common sense and muting America’s moral character. The perversely persuasive tenets of political correctness are now felt in law, education, religion, medicine, media and family life.
Few people realize that this PC sub-culture now ascendant in America is actually the creation, decades ago, of social manipulators who were committed Marxist ideologues intent on undermining democracies. The spread of PC influence - with its shallow veneer of secular virtue - is abetted by the naivete’ and fathomless gullibility of people whose knowledge of history and human nature is woefully lacking.
Let us look at only one of these PC ideas, the notion of non-judgmentalism which says we should not judge anyone.
Today’s conspicuously righteous PC cadres propound the mantra that we dare not judge others. “Judgments,” they insist, “are taboo, and traditional morality stifles. We are all equal. We have rights and freedoms. We determine for ourselves what is good. We can marry who we want, be whatever sex we want, change our race when we want. We have the right and freedom to do what we want, when we want, without being judged by anyone. After all, who indeed are you to judge…?”
For anyone with a working connection to reality and a modicum of common sense, this PC dogma of not judging behavior (one’s own or others) and not evaluating events is absurd. Let us be clear: the human ability to make sound, educated judgments is one of the most essential gifts God gave us. We would be lost without the ability to make mature, informed decisions based on evidence, experience, moral principles, Scriptural insight and human need. Indeed, the ability to make judgments and choices of all kinds – parental, marital, moral, religious, financial, inter-personal, medical - is essential for life,
Reason and survival demand that we gather facts and make judgments about what is good and what is bad, about what is virtuous and what is evil, what is right and what is wrong. Recognizing and naming these differences are essential to our psychological health and moral stability as oxygen is to breathing.
And what about our rights?
Rights originate with God, as does life itself. Rights are paired with responsibilities. Rights, by their very nature, demand that I do what is right and what is healthy for myself and for others.
Freedom is the condition which allows me to do what is right and to meet my responsibilities without hindrance from others.
Freedom is not – is not -- a wide-open license to do anything I wish without reference to my responsibilities to God and other humans. Freedom is never unrestrained. Moral boundaries and expectations always exist. Our God-given freedoms demand informed choices which are oriented toward what is morally right.
Understand this: human freedom is the unobstructed right to meet my responsibilities and obligations without interference from others. Freedom is a link to God, not a reason to abolish His sovereignty over us and replace Him with the State. The freedom to do what is right comes from God, not from politicians or those who govern by vote or by force.
PC’ers oppose this God-centered view. They rush to point out that even Jesus said we should not judge one another. My response? Read His words. Study His actions. Pay attention to context. Examine the moral issues at hand! Jesus was a Person of strong ideals and opinions. He judged a number of errant persons and pharisaical practices. He even reverted to violent action with money changers. He judged a’plenty.
So, given all this, what must we avoid?
We must make judgments to survive and thrive --- but we must avoid excessive and unwarranted judgments against others. We must monitor – i.e., judge -- our own tendencies to excess. We must curb our rash judgments based on little or no data. We must avoid unfair and prejudicial comments. We must control angry, spiteful and self-righteous declarations which foster lies and feed distortions. We must restrain our offensive words and our mean-spirited gestures which sully the good names and reputations of others. We must not allow ourselves arrogant displays of superiority intended to humiliate others. And we must admit -- all the days of our lives -- that we are always capable of these errors.
These are the sorts of de-humanizing judgments which call for apologies and, at times, reparations. These are the behaviors which Judeo-Christian virtues are intended to re-direct and redeem.
Inevitably, we have to judge someone’s behavior. And it’s a fact that evil and sin do indeed exist, sometimes in those we love and, yes, in ourselves. God gave us the ability to define evil in the abstract and to recognize it in the real world. Thus, we must sometimes make judgments about the evil which some people do, and acknowledge evil situations we encounter.
Human evil does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in the attitudes and choices and words and behavior of human beings. It is the product of human action. Evil and sin -- in our world and in our culture and in our families – are results of what we human beings choose to do. Human evil is the product of choice and judgment. Avoiding evil is also a result of making the right judgments about people and situations.
Without proper and informed judgments, we would be constantly subject to the effects of evil. Without judging, we would be vulnerable to all manner of harm and tragedy.
Thank God for the power to judge intelligently and fairly.
Why Write? Why This Blog?
A colleague asked me recently why I wish to write this blog. “What? Another blog?” he challenged. “Yet another blog among endless clutter of blogs in the blogosphere? Why burden yourself? Why tie yourself down? For what purpose? To what end?”
My colleague sees writing as a distressing burden, as a tedious chore. I do not find it so. In fact, I relish the self-imposed, liberating demands which writing places upon me. But people who share his distaste will echo his wonderment with, perhaps, an even sharper point: “What’s in it – what’s really in it -- for you?”
Persons who find writing distasteful and draining will miss the reasons why some of us choose -- happily and repeatedly -- to write. Why do we do it? What’s really in it for us?
On the surface, the answer sounds uncomplicated: we must write; we simply must. Writing is a natural urge, an inescapable drive, a passion demanding the attention of heart and soul as profoundly as any activity in our lives. It is a defining involvement which shapes and enriches us, an insistent mandate to communicate which only the act of writing itself can calm. It is an embrace, sometimes unrequited, of words and a pursuit of ideas, some flat and flaccid, others uplifting and sublime.
All humans are born with the innate need to communicate to the world around us – and to ourselves. This need is embedded in human nature. It is in our DNA. We must declare ourselves, state our needs, question and share. This inherent, restless need to communicate is so strong in human nature that we cannot NOT communicate. This need inspires our behavior and compels us to find habitual ways to bear witness to our own lives. We simply must speak, explain and question, wonder and ask why.
This human need to express ourselves is unquenchable, universal. The ways we communicate obviously vary. Some people are driven to express themselves by accumulating possessions, some are driven to compete. Some cannot resist the role of entrepreneur. Others heed the call of the healer. Some seek peace and harmony, others thrive in combat. Some hearts find tranquility in God, while others seek the passing solace of strangers. Some seek stability in the give-and-take of marriage and family; others resist intimacy for tinseled encounters.
Since we cannot not communicate, we are inevitably involved in self-disclosure. No matter how we hide, we still declare and disclose something of our inner selves. Part of us is always showing.
Writers communicate with their words and, thereby, reveal parts of themselves. But they do so selectively, sometimes with wordly caution, sometimes with astonishing candor, sometimes with fictions or myths as their vehicles of self-disclosure. Some writers reveal themselves persuasively, artfully; others, less so. And sometimes writers declare themselves with a fullness of heart and soul which is startling, because some self-disclosure reveals humanity to itself by touching that depth of inner human vulnerability which many of us spend a lifetime concealing. Paul of Tarsus’ incessant candor comes to mind. And, as Henri Nouwen pointed out, what is most personal is most universal.
The constant danger for writers who seek to reveal humanity to itself is self-delusion. But self-delusion is the egocentric pitfall which all humans risk when we ask others to listen to us and attend to what we have to say. We take a risk when we communicate and, thereby, take a stand in life. But we are, all of us, always human and, therefore, always on the edge of our vulnerabilities, close to what is most Real in our minds and our souls. In fact, we all live in a zone of tension, a protective and encapsulated space between the Real person we are and the Ideal person whom we would strive, in our best moments, to be. We are always in need of some measure of Light to find our way, yet we spend years avoiding Truths which the Light illumines about us, especially when we know that those Truths will demand of us a costly measure of humility and will call us to pursue the costly path of goodness.
So, with those thoughts hovering, why write?
It seems to me worthwhile to look at ideas and trends which exert influence upon our shared human nature. It seems worthwhile to look at the culture we create and the principles by which we deal with each other. It seems worthwhile to wonder about our shared moral values and to look, sometimes painfully, at what is happening to human nature. It seems worthwhile to study human behavior and to consider the foibles which our fragile egos hesitate to consider. It seems worthwhile (at least to me) to discuss the centrality of moral virtue to the pursuit of the Ideal. And it seems worthwhile to look at our mutual accountability to one another which cynics reject and nihilists deplore.
Our world is fraught with conflict and evil – but there is much good in this life, as there are many good people who show us the way. It is an inspiring – if rare – moment when truth (always a threatening variable) is honored and goodness is celebrated. In parts of our fractured culture, these qualities are considered foolish by those whose moral vision begins with themselves and ends in a vacuum. Yet kindness, truth, humility and other Judeo-Christian virtues keep life healthy and hopeful. Indeed, truth and humility are basic to all else in our lives. They elevate our fallen nature, redeem the weakest of our intentions and pull us forward toward the Ideal, despite the cracks in our souls.
Of course, I did not say all this to my colleague’s challenge. But, as I write, I understand - even more clearly than before - why I choose to write and what I hope to say in times to come.