Photo by Robert Phelps
1 April 2021
An Easter Reminder About
The Point Of Our Being Alive
A covid-weary colleague contacted me recently. He is discouraged after a year of missing intimacies and stifled family affections. He is weary; he needs the reassuring contacts which only time-trusted friends provide.
My colleague concluded his comments with that age-old question (so poignantly present at Easter): “What’s the point of it all? What’s it all about?”
My friend’s need for a reminder about our purpose in life is not uncommon these days. Life’s normal uncertainties generate enough wonderment for us all, especially when we face our innate vulnerabilities. But Easter reminds us that The Good Life always involves personal sacrifice and generously giving ourselves to others, even as the Covid culture makes our shared vulnerabilities more obvious.
The Price For Assumed Safety
The de-humanizing disconnects occasioned by masks and neutering distances force upon us a state of social estrangement and collective wariness. We are deprived of subtle yet deeply reassuring civility and familiarity in our interactions with one another.
This deprivation has created a fitful, unfamiliar dystopian world in which we are now forced to exist. Safety from contamination comes at a very great price to our minds and hearts, to our mental stability and spiritual balance.
Reactions And Reactors
For some people, this disconnect escalates into hopeless, agnostic bewilderment. They feel emotionally lost, without purpose or direction, emptied by it all.
Other people find meaning in aggressive pretense. They disdain empathy and altruism. They exude the intolerant superiority of those possessed by excessive self-regard.
Still others find the challenge of wonderment a spur to deepening their Faith and Hope. For these people, every challenge elicits quiet forbearance and calm, enlightened resignation rather than creeping cynicism or dismissive nihilism.
In other words, they realize that we are, all of us, in the hands of God …. like it or not, believe it or not.
Making Sense: First Principles
So, how do we make sense of it all?
Here are some observations I’ve learned over my decades of stumbling sincerity and grateful wonderment. In good times and in strife, these ideas (I call them First Principles) still afford me considerable solace.
Of course, each Principle has corollaries, and we could quibble about clarity and precision. But these ideas are also the result of many reasoning minds, of hearts thankful for life, and of hopeful souls who strive to honor the intentions of our better angels … beyond the facile facades of a fragile ego, humbled by Easter’s Promise.
So … here are some of the First Principles I have valued for the length of my many years.
What Does It Mean To Be Alive?
1, We do indeed possess an eternal soul. Moreover, we can know we possess a soul. We know we did not create our own soul, nor bring ourselves into existence. Soul is a gift far beyond our human capacity to create.
2. What is this “soul” of which I speak? It is the God-created source of our life’s unique energy in mind and body and spirit; the energy by which we grow and change, develop and survive, think and interact with the world around us. It is the divinely-given origin of life - both temporal and eternal life.
3. Our soul is instilled into us at conception when we become true persons, true human beings. Our growth and change as persons begin at the instant of conception; not weeks or months thereafter, not when our heart starts beating … but instantly. We are persons at conception.
We are also able to observe various stages of human growth. From the instant of conception, the developmental process is visible, obvious, self-initiated and undeniable. The evidence for these beliefs is overwhelming.
4. Thus, the soul is the universal reality which defines us as human beings. We all receive the gifts of soul and personhood which direct our development from conception to death. Our souls also unite us in our common personhood as human beings.
5. Each individual soul is the source of unique identity and individuality. It makes each one of us a distinct human being and is the engine of our specific identity. But we also possess vast individual differences, personal singularities and qualities of appearance, temperament, culture, genetic background and so on.
6. Despite countless individual differences, we share common responsibilities to God, to self and to one another. This mutually-intertwined network of our responsibilities to God, self and others (even to strangers) is the bases of all morality and decency.
7. Our universal responsibilities also identify us as moral creatures. As we mature in our moral lives, our responsibilities to God and one another come before our rights. We may claim our rights only after we meet our responsibilities.
8. Morality means we are responsible for the choices we make … for good or for evil. We are responsible for the impact of our choices and behavior on other human beings and on their rights. We are responsible for what we do and how we do it, since rights are always preceded by responsibilities and accountabilities.
9. As moral beings, we possess God-given awareness (both instinctual and learned) about our responsibilities, about what is expected of us, about what we should do and what we should not do. And, as we develop in mind and body, we learn the spiritual, religious and social and community rules which determine moral responsibilities.
9. How do we learn? Our first teacher is Human Nature. Even young children instinctively know that certain actions are good, some of lesser good, some forbidden. Then, as we grow, we learn primarily from family and friends. Then we learn from our culture and from the agencies therein (church, school, formal and informal community agents). But we learn first from our parents who are, by divine law and human decree, our primary educators.
10. Underlying all of this is the fact that Nature’s Creator has endowed each of us with free will, Free will is our innate ability to choose for ourselves to follow or to ignore [A] Laws of Nature and community, [B] the Divine Will, learned through Revelation, and [C] the dictates of our relationships with God, ourselves and others. Make no mistake: We are bound in Justice and Charity to human laws passed by legitimate authority for the common good.
11. Our knowledge of right-and-wrong (our properly educated consciences) and our informed free will determine the morality of our choices. As we age, our choices (based on moral knowledge and free will) determine the content of our character.
12. The mind, heart and soul’s innate capacity to learn rests in our ability to think and to reason. Our ability to reason accurately, intelligently and logically evolves as we develop in knowledge and experience. Hopefully, we learn to use our Power of Reason in accord with truth and facts as our guides ... for only with logic, truth, respect for facts and a humble heart will we learn to Reason reasonably.
13. As we mature, Right Reason becomes our Organizer of Reality. But Reason can be right or wrong, correct or in error, depending on the sources we use and their coherence with facts, history, Revelation, logic and consequences which are sought or unintended.
14. The requisite conditions for learning Right Reason and moral clarity are [A] our own honesty (not merely sincerity alone), [B] history in all its dimensions, and [C] Tradition. Tradition means the cumulative discernment and practical wisdom - sacred and secular - of our stable elders.
15. We cannot deny the limits of our unaided human thought. We cannot deny our need for a Higher Source of secular and sacred knowledge, i.e., God. Logic dictates that we acknowledge the central role His Revelation plays as the most relevant source of learning.
Disputes and Challenges ?
These few First Principles rest on fundamentals of Faith. Some are also bolstered by scientific facts. Even so, committed cynics find much to fault. Staunch doubters take unsavory delight these days in not only dismissing Faith but also basic science and fundamental logic.
Cynics dismiss Faith and Reason as essential factors in understanding life’s tricky, relentless ambiguities and human nature’s insatiable, often errant, need to know.
Why is there so much insane rejection these days?
Well, for one thing, Faith is a demanding Principle; it’s costly, especially for persons with dominating egos. Faith compels us to admit we are often not in control of anything or anyone, even ourselves. Admitting this requires an aggravating degree of humility, which means facing the truth about self … and that’s always a threat to committed ego-centrists who accept only one form of “evidence,” their wayward, often very immature, emotionality.
Moreover, Faith also makes it clear that, as a race, we humans still do not grasp the dignity of life. We cannot live literally by the words of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's two-edged dictum (rendered gratuitously in the Casey Decision): "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."
- We certainly cannot go it alone in this life, nor can we say or do whatever we please, especially when doing so elevates toxic individualism above human life.
- We cannot reject the discipline and self-sacrifices of traditional family life in favor of expressing a mutilated form of selfish “love.”
- We cannot rationally erase the obvious biological differences between men and women which now leads to a plethora of medical, psychological and spiritual tragedies.
- We cannot logically continue to celebrate the slaughter of babies born and unborn, even though our government works to internationalize such madness.
- We cannot reasonably continue to legislate against the religious beliefs of citizens, even though some of our elected leaders seek to do precisely that.
We pay a huge price as we pursue a variety of bizarre “answers” to the questions which are central to our existence: “What’s it all about? Why are we here?”
Finally …. Some Corollaries
How do we discover Faith, Right Reason and the correct standards of morality?
We start with our five senses and behold the wonders and miracles they reveal to us every second.
For example, take a long look at the stars, or study your reflection in the mirror. Approach created reality as a gift, with awe and gratitude and humble wonderment.
Our senses are our starting point, but they’re limited ways for us to further comprehend the staggering mysteries and parade of ever-present miracles which cascade right in front of us at every instant, all around us in Creation. Miracles are always present to us – in ourselves and in one another.
To Thine Own Self Be True
Only if/when we are honest with ourselves and true to our nature’s God-driven desire to know what it’s all about … only then can we be honest with one another.
And if we are honest with ourselves, if we choose to go beyond our own pretenses, then we cannot help but admit that:
- We require more than ourselves to find purpose and meaning, peace and fulfillment in our lives;
- Without knowledge from a Source greater than our human selves, we will have no idea what we are here for, nor Who it is Who watches over us, even when we doubt, even in personal darkness and suffering;
- When we listen only to ourselves and seek to glorify only ourselves, we are prone to selfish action, illogical behavior and hurtful outcomes. Clearly, we need more than ourselves to understand what it is all about, to understand what we are all about.
- That’s why Right Reason demands our assent to Revelation as the further source of our knowledge. We need knowledge from a Source above and beyond human reason alone.
Gifts And Miracles Abound
In the long run, Right Reason reveals that everything we have is a gift, even the light from the trillions upon trillions of stars whose very existence is beyond our imagining without God’s astonishing, miraculous power.
In fact, miracles are as common as the stars above, or the grass beneath our feet … or the soul within us.
In fact, miraculous reality is constantly available to us.
In fact, of all the miracles we behold each day, the most humbling miracle is … our own selves:
- the astonishing way we are formed,
- the manner in which our bodies behave,
- the way we can manage ourselves in a world where we are truly guests,
- the way we can read these words and freely say either, “Help me to be grateful and thank you, God” … or “What nonsense God truly is to me.”
In fact, we should be profoundly grateful for what we have been given. In fact, our knowledge, as great as it is in some areas, also seems so fragile and small before God's power and wisdom.
In the face of all this, Faith and Hope seem most reasonable, logical and honest responses.
And, as we recognize the utility of Faith and Hope in human life, along comes that nagging, one-word Christian message. It is the hardest task of all, the crowning bit of wisdom for the honest seeker to put into action: Charity.
“Love” is a weak word to describe the meaning of Charity … unless we have loved and been loved and have embraced love’s inseparable joys and sufferings, losses and gains, moments of trust and daily risks of self-exposure. These are the inseparable ingredients of true Charity in this life, true giving of self to God and one another. And for the Christian, there’s no other path.
But, happily, Charity is love with a capital L. This means that God is infinite not only in His caring for us … but in His understanding and uplifting of our human nature … and His care for each of us and all of us … for we are His children, like it or not, believe it or not.
God’s particular form of Charity for us is revealed in the story of Christ. By His life, we are called to goodness. If we live accordingly, goodness becomes ours to nurture and cherish through our own life-long call to give love and to receive love as His legacy to us … and to one another.
It is not an easy calling … but it is what we are called to hear and to heed.
These Principles are, I suggest, what life is all about -- for starters. There is, to be sure, much more to know and to attend to, but this seems a good place to start.
What do you think?
8 March 2021
In Regard To Our Pets
We hard-core pet owners sometimes seem a peculiar breed. As a rule, we have an unusually gentle disposition toward our pets. We’re patient with them, even when patience is tested. We’re notoriously sympathetic to them, attentive to their moods and spontaneously affectionate with them.
It’s also true that some pet owners occasionally get carried away when they exaggerate their pet’s amiable appeal. Some even go so far as to dress them in outlandish outfits best suited to slapstick vaudevillians or feckless fraternity initiates.
Nonetheless, we pet owners do indeed relish our pets. In fact, some of us are more at ease with our animals than with people. Given the unpredictable vagaries of human behavior, this preference is sometimes understandable … but I digress…
Nature’s Basic Principles
Nature makes it obvious that all living creatures possess an innate source of life – a source of life called the “soul.” The soul is the innate principle of life. It is the source of growth and change, of behavior and individual identity in all living creatures, not just us humans.
The question arises: Do animals have soul? The answer is yes, they do. Why? Because the soul (human, animal or vegetative) bestows generic reality and specific identity to each and every creature which follows its specific patterns of growth, change and maturity.
The soul energizes the activities and routines of every created, living species. Moreover, each and every animal species (humans included) has its unique, Nature-driven programs of life, growth, change, movement and communication; its own unique source of bodily sensations and emotional experiences, its own sense of community and bonds of loyalty, its own natural flow from conception to birth to maturity to death. Indeed, each has its own “personality.”
The power of soul is extensive and astonishing, without parallel in Creation -- both in terms of entire species and in terms of each individual … for despite similarities in Nature, each sensate creature displays extraordinary individuality.
Of course, significant differences obviously exist between the souls of created beings in the animal world (e.g., Fido) and the world of rational beings (e.g., Fido’s owner). These differences are evident in many distinguishing factors, such as the various kinds of “intelligence” different creatures possess, the complexity of their communication, the range of “emotionality” each species is granted by Nature – on and on.
Obviously, animal “soul” does not possess the depth of cognitive ability (reason and logic) nor the gift of free will which define human nature. Animals act on the bases of instincts and primitive urges … BUT many animals also reveal ability to link cause-and-effect (or stimulus-response, if you prefer) and to relate to us humans in ways which touch our hearts and create lasting bonds of affection, empathy and fidelity within us -- and in them, as well.
And, like everything around us, all of this attests to two humbling realities, the wonder of Creation and the goodness of our Creator Who sustains us.
The Power Of Relating
For decades, I have been (and am) a cat-person. Over five decades, I have had a series of feline “pets” who - it ofttimes seems - have actually adopted me as their doting attendant.
My present cat, Pookie, has a shadowy pedigree. Her somewhat cloying name was assigned to her at the animal shelter where we first met a dozen years ago. Pookie had been badly abused and abandoned before I met her. She still exhibits fear of strangers, brought on by merciless disregard suffered in her earliest years. Yet with me she demonstrates grand measures of trust, attentive warmth and constant chattiness, blended with feline insouciance and pouty bouts of delightful stubbornness. I readily admit I have spoiled Pookie … badly … and shall continue to do so.
I am often amused at Pookie’s insistence that she be brushed with regularity several times daily and fed on schedule. My tardiness merits swift remonstrance and a dismissive swish of her tail – but she is soon again at my side, seeking solace and a reassuring scratch on her ears (her sensitive ears have the delicate texture of an orchid in bloom).
I recall other cats who have shared their lives with me over the decades: Kitty and Buster, Zeppo and Dudley and, now, Pookie. I am very often moved to see them throughout my years as true gifts of God and Nature:
- gifts whose sprightly, insistent presences have opened my eyes and my heart to a benign dimension of life -- and of myself -- where gentleness abides;
- gifts who reveal to me a facet of Creation and unmerited goodness outside myself, an awareness which redounds to my soul’s benefit;
- gifts who have given me the opportunity to be concerned about the well-being of another living creature and, thus, to be aware of the pitfalls of self-absorption and the utter necessity of persistence in kindness for the sake of my own soul.
Bonds Of Fond Memory
There is also an amusing side to the impression a dedicated pet owner gives. We are sometimes perceived by others as a bit “balmy” in our appreciation of our pets, a bit “off” in the way we chat with them and speak about our relationships with them.
In time, as they become part of our family and part of our hearts, we develop a relationship of real affection, an emotional bond of unguarded mutual dependence with them. We come to love them and to be emotionally attached to their innocence and their tolerant stability.
For example, I still recall my feelings of loss when Dudley died. Dudley was a simple, ever-comforting presence, always responsive, ever attentive. He was un-demanding in his wants, uncomplicated in his tastes and preferences, prompt to table, always ready with a purry opinion.
Dudley snored loudly when he napped, but he became animated at the sight of birds outside. He’d chatter excitedly, running from window to window, loudly proclaiming his feline fascination.
He always became calm when I played Mozart and was content to spend hours quietly nestled on the couch close to me, sniffing the air inquisitively or snoozing in that deep state of total slumber which trusting souls enjoy. He was a gem of a creature; I miss him still.
Loonies And Lovers
As I say, we who are fortunate to share our lives with our pets may seem to others an eccentric bunch. To those who scoff at the uncomplicated beauty and who disdain the inherent dignity of all Creation, animals are merely things, with little to recommend notice, an irrelevant appendage to the pursuit of personal privilege or fortune or self-aggrandizement.
To such persons, animals are superfluous diversions whose worth is so often measured in terms of casual slaughter for the sake of brutal, errant pleasure or the inelegant distractions of “sport.”
Such people do not recognize the fact that our pets add a significant dimension to our experience of Creation. Our pets also bring something extraordinarily captivating to human life: they challenge our willingness to recognize and honor the immeasurable gifts which flow from Nature’s God.
Thus, our humanity is vastly improved:
- if we are ready to acknowledge that God is truly revealed through His creatures;
- if we are willing to seek insight into ourselves by honoring Creation’s miraculously diverse flow;
- if we are able to re-align our self-centered concerns with the rhythms of Creation’s mysteries, including our own human nature.
What We Miss
Most (not all) human relationships are, at one time or another, confusing and ambiguous, muddled and messy, strained and inconsistent, prompting us to caution as much as to trust.
Even solid-seeming marriages sometimes falter; trust may be tainted and shaken. Our frail human dispositions and fragile egos frequently put us at entrenched disadvantage with ourselves and one another.
As trust wanes, we become vulnerable to the deepest pain in life. That’s when our innate need to express our love cannot pour forth to our Beloved. When (for whatever reasons) we stifle our loving selves and stymie our divine gift of bestowing affection and expressing concern, we then begin to curdle inside because our souls are afflicted by an unnatural act of deprivation.
But our pets ofttimes buffer us from the worst of this purgatorial isolation. They offer us an outlet (even if it seems slight) so that we may still preserve and externalize a portion of our need to express our love.
Happily, our pets do not mind one bit when we do show them our affection. And we are made better by the mere fact of allowing ourselves to be expressive, loving beings. Indeed, it is our nature to be that person … after the example of Him to Whom we all belong in the first place.
The Gentle Side
Our pets ask little of us but they give back so very much to us. Somehow, they can reach within us and tap into our oft-hidden yearnings. Their eyes can unlock feelings within us which we might never express or even know existed, were it not for their kindly, accepting presence in our lives.
It’s also uncanny how they can read our moods. If we listen to our hearts, we will realize that the magic of Creation infuses these little animals with the power to expose us to ourselves, to reveal to us our own needs … needs which we might otherwise not even recognize or respect.
They do this so often with a simple tilt of the head, or with the gentle tap of a furry paw upside the nose in the early morning chill, or with the inevitable laughter and lingering smiles their erratic energies so often trigger in us.
Yet all they seek from us is a bit of food and a scratch behind their ears and a smidgen of our attention … and for this we are blessed by their presence in our lives.
Surely, loving our pets affords us insights which help us not to remain strangers to ourselves.
Reflections Of Affection
Thus, we if allow it, our pets give us opportunities to reflect on who we are; opportunities to peacefully peer into that area of ourselves wherein our protected hearts and quiet hopes reside.
Our pets afford us an un-demanding look at portions of our own soul. So often do they “teach” us some of life’s First Principles, including:
- how profoundly good it is for us to love one another;
- how essential it is for our mental and spiritual health to express our tenderness to others;
- how grand and generous life is to grant us these little creatures who inspire us to do so;
- how fortunate we are to possess these patient creatures whose simple presence inspires us to befriend ourselves as we befriend them.
Befriending ourselves requires us to be honest about who we are intended by God to be in our lives. We are not born to nihilistic alienation. Conflict is not our default state, and cynicism is a toxic basis for living.
At our best, we are born to give freely of ourselves to others, to infuse our world with kindness beyond measure. In truth, we are created by God to love souls, not things.
Sadly, some of us become enthralled by the ephemeral trinkets and distracting baubles which pull us away from the basic needs and goals of our created human nature.
Happily, our faithful animals are not impressed by our grandiosity or by the arbitrary boundaries we set. Given the chance, they’ll walk right through our defenses and, with wagging tail or plaintive meow, they’ll breach the walls of studied indifference which many of us needlessly erect.
How do they do it?
It’s no mystery -- their power rests in their unguarded simplicity and in their readiness to accept us. Our worst outcome is to teach them to fear us.
Loss … And Hope
If we heed the voices of human nature’s better angels, we will acknowledge that our lives are meant to be never-ending seasons of celebration for the many graces of ennobling relationships. Life is meant to be a time of gratitude with and for others – even when we lose a loved one, including a beloved pet.
Losing a faithful animal can take us aback with painful and lingering intensity because these blessed creatures touch us in very deep ways, revealing in us qualities of heart and soul and goodness which can penetrate our facades and reveal us to be so very human.
We are, therefore, wise to regard their presence in our lives with constant gratitude to God for the gifts they truly are. They return to us a portion of our own souls, as we are exposed by our expressions of true affection.
They “teach” us how profoundly good it is for us to express our love for Creation, our delight for living beings, our humbled attention to life itself. They offer us clarity about how enriching life can be when we choose to make it so.
It is these hopes and ideals of which Pookie and Kitty, Zeppo and Buster and Dudley remind me. I believe this message of gratitude is why God grants us such lovely animals to grace our lives – so that we may learn to see and accept who we are truly intended by God to be, namely:
- men and women who are born to revere all life, especially those creatures who share life with us;
- men and women born to love and to be loved, born to give and to receive the love which defines our nature.
Finally, the true meaning and purpose of every life is not at all mysterious or complicated: we are born for love and fidelity … but if you doubt my words, then just ask any pet ( … and be sure to bring them a treat … ).
10 February 2021
America At Risk
After decades of percolating in our cultural shadows, several powerful social movements have finally emerged to generate major social and moral changes in America.
These changes have enormous impact on the basics of American life, including the words we use in daily conversation and the very meaning of human nature, personal identity -- and life itself.
These changes also have profound – profound -- effect on our children. These changes now dictate the path which America is following into our moral and political futures.
Here are some changes we now behold in America’s daily life:
- Unheard-of censorship is leveled especially against pro-life and religious groups which object to the “normalization” of transgenderism which, through chemical and surgical means, inflicts life-long damage on children;
- Religious denominations which do not support “gay marriage” are labeled “hate groups;”
- Endless comments are now common about the evil “white race” and the “systemic racism of white privilege;”
- Explicit sex education is pushed upon grade school youngsters, whose parents often remain uninformed about race-sex-gender emphases in public education … to the detriment of essential academic curricula;
- Many benefits of citizenship are afforded illegal aliens - a term which itself offends current fads of “equity” (not equality) and “inclusion;”
- Defunding police departments by government officials has furthered disrespect and scorn for established law:
- In the midst of a pandemic and an economic crisis, our revised border policy now welcomes non-citizens:
- Accusations of racism, hate speech and gender warfare are leveled against Christians who oppose taxpayer-funded abortions in America and abroad;
- Banning by sports and entertainment celebrities of our National Anthem as divisive and polarizing.
These are a few of the social, cultural and moral changes which are re-defining the identity and nature of our American reality and the soul of our nation.
Some people greet these changes with enthusiasm. Others see these changes as a death knell for America as we have known it.
The Triumph of Individualism
Many factors - historical, political, philosophical, religious – contribute to the ascendance of these ideas. They were given summary expression by the Supreme Court in 1992 when Justice Kennedy (“Planned Parenthood v Casey” with other Justices concurring) declared that at the heart of our Constitutional liberty is “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
On the surface, this opinion sounds persuasive. We all want to be “happy” and “free” and live on our terms. But, realistically, the exercise of all human freedoms requires 1) objective standards which oblige all citizens, and 2) individual self-restraint which is absolutely necessary to assure equality and peace. This is true of nations as much as it is in family life.
Problems emerge when we pursue “happiness” on our own terms, without reference to:
- clear moral principles, civic virtue and voluntary self-restraint to guide and protect us all;
- mutually-accepted behavioral limits and common purposes to unify us;
- enforced laws to guarantee common responsibilities and rights, and to secure mutual justice for self and others.
Without these safeguards, each person becomes a law unto him/herself. Even babies in the womb and born-alive children are now disposable, as the rule of radical individualism weakens our nation.
A Nation In Conflict
What we see today is a profound moral and cultural conflict. We are involved in the aggressive rise of “woke” beliefs in which words are “weaponized” and civility is jettisoned.
No corner of our society and no law of Nature – not even a child’s right to life or the innocence of our children or our reverence for traditional home-and-family – are now sacred.
Traditions of long-standing are now banished, differences punished. Vengeance has become a political tool. Hostility and hollow accusations are adorned with the hue of pseudo-virtue.
The unthinkable has become our national norm.
Among the significant social movements which have infected our culture over the last five decades is “Therapeutic Ethics.” This term refers to the codex of beliefs and practices which proposes “self-defined individual happiness” as the ultimate goal of life.
Therapeutic Ethics grants individuals the sole right to determine what “happiness” and “creation” and “self” mean for him-or-her. Prior categories of learning and decision-making (e.g., morality, family, school, church, etc.) are obsolete. Belief in divine intervention in human affairs is eradicated.
Only the individual and his/her like-minded colleagues (and, in time, the courts, media, corporate leaders, schools, even some churches) decide what’s real and what’s not, what’s moral and what’s not, what socially acceptable and what’s not.
How has this state of radical individualism been achieved and how is it now being maintained?
Therapeutic Ethics encourages the individual to re-define for himself (or disregard entirely) the validity and relevance of scientific, moral and cultural standards of right-or-wrong, of truth-or-falsity, of fact-or-bother.
Previous cultural restraints and linguistic norms, moral traditions, scientific evidence, religious beliefs and legal limits (i.e., the Constitution, the Ten Commandments, legal precedents, biological facts) are passe, seen as obstacles to individual “happiness.”
Long Time Coming
Therapeutic Ethics has been many years in coming to fruition. It was given a significant boost with the rise and popularity of the so-called “Human Potential Movement” in the mid-1950s.
The Human Potential Movement celebrated the life of the "emotions" and the unrestrained expression of “feelings” distinct from -- even antithetical to -- various cognitive faculties of mind and intellect (including conscience) and millennia of traditions embodied in Western learning and culture, religion (especially Christianity), education and family (these, for starters).
In fact, Therapeutic Ethics validated unguarded expressions (often impulsive and deliberately repressed) of individual feelings and instinctual urges. “If you feel it, say it” was a requirement for a healthy personality: "How one feels defines who one is." Head-trips (i.e., self-restraint, civility and moral conscience) were anathema.
The unfettered expression of personal "feelings" without critical analysis – and, often enough, with the use of mind-altering drugs - has been consistently emphasized. The mantra of "Let it all hang out" eclipsed traditional moral and social restraints, and, as we now see, eventually sapped traditionally-accepted norms.
Radical individualism has even led to the destruction of the traditional family, the rejection of human biology and the abortion of many millions of our youngest citizens.
Some Basic Beliefs
The First Principles of Therapeutic Ethics include these ideas:
- Feelings are good, restraints harmful;
- The individual's freedom to express his needs without being judged is paramount to psychological health;
- If one is restrained by any traditional norms, the norms must be changed or done away with;
- The culture, not the person, must conform to the new morality as defined by “woke” individuals and supportive social agents;
- The process of living emotionally “free” is more important than commonly accepted norms of culture, church and society;
- “Character” is a fluctuating concept, often a moral and social trap meant to confine the person;
- Traditional morality (especially Christian morality) is a conceptual restraint manufactured by religion and society to keep people enslaved;
- A person’s personality has been wounded (often gravely) by parents, church, school and agencies of socialization which stifle our ability to "feel" and express our emotions. “Healing” is essential in order to become one’s “true self.”
- Judging people and holding them responsible for their actions is a manipulative device used by authority figures to invade psychic space of others and infiltrate their unconscious minds with controlling and self-defeating thoughts.
- Minorites (especially Blacks and women) reveal the victimizing impact of traditional family and religious methods of Western, male-dominated, white racial and sexual control.
- Whites are guilty by birth; males are inherently evil.
Whew !! … But There’s More…
The fallacies of Therapeutic Ethics found ready reception in our fluttering society during the 1960s and ensuing decades, particularly during the eras of demonstrations for civil rights and woman’s liberation. As one might expect, distortions, exaggerations, violence and abuses were not uncommon, and the aura of “victimization” became the launching pad for radical notions of “civil rights” and a litany of America’s contrived evils.
At the same time, higher education became the major vehicle for the introduction of atheistic Marxist-socialist ideas into our culture (see the influence of the Frankfort School).
Today, the pattern of destruction for our society occurs along these lines:
- Use the System against itself, as a means to weaken citizen’s pride in their nation and eventually to overthrow it.
- Appeal to victimized minorities – both legitimate and feigned.
- Magnify absurd demands and minor frustrations into sources of human rights deprived.
- Exaggerate the application of just laws (e.g., immigration, the use of “male” and “female”) as examples of racial, sexual and class injustices.
- Sow strife and instill discord under the guise of victimized righteousness, no matter how bizarre (e.g., transgendered “rights”).
- Condemn the constraints which law imposes and accuse police of consistent brutality, even when untrue.
- Heighten the duplicitous validity of anger and resentment as reasons for lawless civil rights demonstrations and “justifiable” rebellion.
- Promote disregard of existing laws even amongst lawmakers and elected officials (e.g., “sanctuary cities”).
… And More …
Over decades, the idea grew that those who inhabit academe (the educational Illuminati) and the political spectrum are the only validly informed agents of social and moral change. Some educators militantly (and erroneously) stated that academic freedom allows educators to act independently of traditional learning content and religious fervor.
Thus, educators could instill generational change without the delusions of religion, outworn patriotism and other traditional and religious concepts encoded in language, law, custom and history.
This practice is, of course, blatant abuse of academic freedom … yet it thrives in American universities and lower grade schools to this day, turning much of education into propaganda.
In addition, various corollaries arose from the First Principles of Therapeutic Ethics. For example, some people preach that:
- Caucasian men (or "the Establishment") are, by their very nature, “white male supremacists” intent on victimizing minorities.
- Churches, especially the Catholic Church, developed moral codes to enslave whole populations. They are the “enemy of the people.”
These ideas are now codified in some businesses, educational institutions and churches, giving added impetus to the belief that accountability is less important than self-expression, and that self-restraint and moral tradition are impediments to achievement, civil rights, freedom and "self-esteem."
For example, in the educational world, many unthinking Americans have mistaken “self-esteem” (a corrupting concept to begin with) for “self-respect.” Some school children advance without learning academic basics or facing the essential realities of healthy competition. In some schools, student are awarded for achieving nothing, lest their tender psyches be bruised by reality.
Still, the Liturgy of the Victim and the Vocabulary of Victimhood are solidly established in the marrow of those who indict America of “systemic racism.”
Indeed, the clamor about everlasting “victimhood” (either from those claiming personal victimhood or those hangers-on in empathic sync) has given rise to the triad of guilt -- race, class and sex/gender -- for which America is now blamed even by an increasing number of our own benighted citizens, including elected officials.
Therapeutic Ethics also gave rise to “non-judgmentalism,” a way of condemning the essential human process of judging others (a form of victimizing) for their behavior.
The corrosive “non-judgmental” myth says that holding persons responsible for their actions harms their psychic growth and happiness. It is wrong to judge anyone for what they say or do … unless the person says something which offends a politically-active minority.
And Let’s Not Forget Politically Correct Dogma
We must also consider “woke” adherents of political correctness who say that judging others for what they say or do is itself a moral evil. They do not distinguish between necessary judgments and fact-less accusations.
Therapeutic Ethics draws much energy from political correctness. To ease the "victimhood" of Blacks, women, homosexuals, transsexuals and any other “victimized” class, politically correct people keep an ever-watchful eye on every corner of our “un-woke” culture in search of victimizing perpetrators.
The politically correct notions of Inclusion without Qualification, Moral Equivalency, Selective Non-Judgmentalism, sanctimonious Selective Rage and the Deconstruction of Language and Moral Meaning are everywhere to be seen and heard. Our public discourse in politics, entertainment and even in informal conversation has become accusatory, often unrestrained, hardened and bitter. Standards of objectivity and fairness are often overshadowed by the condemnatory rhetoric of race, class, and sex-gender. Even family is not a safe zone any longer.
Rather than actually "healing" our culture, we have spawned an extensive, irrational public pathology. One example: consider the plethora of silly, self-descriptive pronouns which now abounds. A person who is dissatisfied with his/her/its gender or sexual identity now chooses from a truly bizarre list of pronouns (“zhi,” “zher,” and many, many more).
In the judgment of many persons, this is a display of narcissistic dissatisfaction with some aspect of self; a travesty of the sanctity of the person, an abuse of individual freedom. It is certainly not “social justice” achieved, nor a “civil right” earned or a “human right” triumphant. It is vandalism of reason and language, a form of self-obsession beyond parody.
Finally . . .
Human beings are given the ability to reason, to think rationally on the bases of facts and evidence. It is tragic when we act contrary to our essence as rational beings or disregard the best traditions of our culture.
Feelings and emotions certainly have definite role in the healthy lives of all of us. But feelings and emotions must serve us in conjunction with, and subservient to, reason and knowledge, facts and evidence, experience and empathy … and, hopefully the virtue of Prudence and the gift of God’s instilled wisdom.
Human nature is not -- is not -- free of innate limits and laws and responsibilities imposed upon each of us by God. It is obvious that when we disregard inherent limits of our created human nature and ignore proven guidelines for social sanity and cultural health, we do indeed unleash the worst within self and society. However, even though human nature has its particular weaknesses, we are not - thank God – condemned by our compulsions or fated to act upon our raw instincts.
Certainly, American history reveals grave mistakes made by our leaders and our ancestors – and ourselves. However, this is not a result of America but of us, of our human weaknesses.
Yes, we are all blessed with reason and guided by natural law, but we are also capable of grave error and sins of selfishness and acts of incalculable unkindness and downright evil. Yet we always have a free choice about which path we shall follow – the choice to seek a better way forward, or to continue to go woefully astray.
America -- as I have known it and loved it in my lifetime -- is the best way forward, even if some of us disdain our nation’s uneven but human struggle for goodness; even if some of us refuse to learn from history and reject the power of our own example.
In our present wayward distress, I pray we shall not seek to destroy what can unite us; shall not seek to poison what can heal us; shall not seek to banish God’s wisdom from our hearts and minds and, in so doing, condemn ourselves to the nihilism which now looms over us with unforgiving ferocity.
I wonder each day when and how – or even if -- we Americans shall ever again embrace and observe the limits of our own human nature and respond in faith and humility to the expectations of our loving, ever-patient God … and realize how grateful we should be to live in this blessed nation. I wonder……
We shall see……………. We shall indeed see…………..
5 January 2021
Asking The Unanswered
Recently, in a beach town nearby, an intoxicated, twenty-two-year-old woman drove her car into another vehicle. A young couple in their late twenties were killed. Their three daughters – five, four and one year old - were injured, but survived.
The intoxicated driver has a previous DUI citation. She is charged with a long list of offenses, including “two felony counts of murder, one felony count of driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury,” and many more. Barely out of her terns, she faces a possible life sentence.
When anger and shock fade, many people understandably ask: “Why does a so-called Loving God allow such things to happen? Why?”
Searching For Clarity
We have an innate need to understand why such events occur. We struggle to make sense of the senseless, to find a logical "answer" to deeply perplexing questions. We are born to seek knowledge. It is a mandate of human nature to wonder… yet we understand so little about so much in our lives, including the reasons and motives for such avoidable tragedies.
Human intelligence and creativity are astonishing and unquestionably impressive in the ways we unfold Nature’s secrets. We are responsible for successfully meeting a variety of challenges. We have the power to peer into the vastness of the given Universe, as well as the obligation to restrain errant quests. At our best, we have the sense to pursue wisdom, i.e., to nourish the soul’s insight and the heart’s comprehension of truths beyond sensory knowledge.
Still, our desire to know all the answers is eventually encapsulated by the limitations which define human nature. Reason and logic, history and experience, wisdom and simple common sense all tell us that endless realities exist which human nature cannot comprehend and should not mess with.
So, despite our array of human achievements, we so often forget that life – with all its complexities – is a gift; a precious, delicate, paradoxical gift which contains secrets beyond our grasp. Life (all life, including our own) is a confounding reality beyond human comprehension … as is all of Creation, for that matter.
Creation is beyond our control and comprehension. The restraints of human nature should be crystal clear even to the dedicated cynic. Yet, so often we forget that Creation originates with our Creator upon Whose power and sustenance we are ever-dependent … and to Whom we are, hopefully, ever-grateful.
The Limits Of Knowing
Given our limitations, it is eminently reasonable for us to ask:
- At what point does our dissatisfaction with unknowing become excessive?
- At what point in our lives should we reasonably cease our self-defeating curiosity?
- At what point in our lives must a realistic "Aha!!" calm our demand to know-beyond-knowing?
- At what reasonable point in our lives do we accept the established boundaries of our human intellect?
- At what point in our lives to we accept the fact that there are countless realities we will never comprehend?
- At what point in our lives do we give credit where credit is due and admit our Creator does exist?
- Is it not obvious that a steady stream of miraculous events appears before our eyes every instant?
- Is it not clear that every one of us possesses grand, ennobling possibilities, especially in family?
- Is it not clear that responsibilities and obligations to one another are inherent in life and community?
- Is it not clear that we reside as guests in a Universe of amazing complexity and beauty?
- Is it not clear that every moment of our lives is itself a gift and a miracle well beyond our doing?
The blessings of this life should move us to gratitude with every breath we take, with the sounds of children’s giddy laughter, with every leaf we behold, every song we hear, every sunrise which awakens us all over again to life’s grandeur.
Mystery … And Beyond
Some people are unconvinced. They see these questions as a surrender to aging myths or quaint religiosity. They still demand to know: “If there is a God, why isn’t God kinder? Why does He permit suffering at all? And why is He so silent?”
These questions push some people to jaded cynicism or nihilism’s empty larder or atheism’s hapless rejection of our Creator. But if nothing is beyond this life -- no Creator beyond the stars, no God Who made all this -- then we must also ask: “Whence did life emerge? From what source do the laws of Nature arise? Or is Creation a soupy jumble of self-generating stuff – sort of?”
Some people say that trying to figure out God’s reasons is a “Big Mystery” … and that’s true. But this does not satisfy all of us.
In common usage, “mysteries” are puzzles to be neatly resolved. The mind demands tidy solutions to mystery. Solutions restore our mental equilibrium and placate the frustration of unknowing. But when we push the word "mystery" beyond common usage, it becomes a miscue, as if our logic could actually clarify the complexities of Creation.
The overwhelming realities of Creation – including avoidable suffering -- do not fit conveniently into the tight logic of our five senses or the formulaic calculations of human reason. Our freedom to think and to believe are actually confined, not expanded, by reliance on science alone. And human immaturity is so often the preventable cause of irresponsible woe.
If we look only to ourselves and our own resources, then intuition and contemplation, Faith and Hope and Goodness become alien indulgences. In the process of excessive self-reliance, we actually deny human nature and mistakenly equate knowledge with wisdom, a profound, often fatal, error.
The truth is that we are not born to live solely on our own terms.
The truth is that we are dependent on others all our lives -- and they upon us -- from birth through our elder years.
The truth is that we are born into a universe of unknowable realities -- but we are also responsible for much of what occurs.
The need to acknowledge our Creator is our nature’s paradoxical inheritance, the spur intended to propel us beyond knowledge to the realm of the Divine. This is our calling; it is central to our identity.
Admitting this to ourselves – accepting the power and dominion of our Creator - is indeed a surrender to Divine authority … AND a pathway to our own enrichment. It is the act of giving ourselves in Faith and Hope, not losing ourselves in doubt and futility. But it also asks of us self-restraint …
Paradox And Ambiguity
The dictionary defines “paradox” as a “seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that - when investigated or explained - may prove to be well founded or true…”
The point? Life’s paradoxes offer us a truth to be found only in our struggle to make sense of the Ambiguity we encounter. Many people see Ambiguity through a darkened lens, as rampant nihilism or as a senseless drudge, without a whit of redeeming merit, as a fool’s paradise.
Others – those who are bolstered by Faith and Hope – see Ambiguity as a call to virtue, i.e., as a source of strength and focus in heart and soul ... as the Virtue of Ambiguity.
And in that context, the Virtue of Ambiguity (by definition) proposes that much of life and reality are surely unknowable … BUT our limitations are actually doorways to a different form of knowing, to a storehouse of redemptive, inspiring knowledge.
What sort of knowledge? The fact that intellectual mastery is less beneficial to human nature than contentment of heart and peace of soul, which are infused by the Virtue of Ambiguity.
At first glance, this may sound naïve and simplistic, as if lack of knowledge and capitulation to passivity are acceptable. Obviously not so. We rightly expect each profession to be thorough in the mastery of its discipline and in its approval of its practitioners. Human knowledge, the scientific method, the technologies of our age – all are powerful . . . and Justice punishes those who feign or demean Right Reason and authentic learning.
Yet somewhere along every line of inquiry, we are faced more with questions than answers. In every field, we eventually encounter that line between mastery and mystery. We encounter the Unknown, be it in science or the arts, in daily life and family – and certainly within ourselves.
And it is at the point of our fallibility and wonder that the Virtue of Ambiguity -- with its core rooted in Faith and Hope - is to be recognized as a gift from God.
The Virtue of Ambiguity becomes a gift of patient waiting and hopeful want; a gift to be accepted with gratitude, nurtured with humbled heart and spirit, as we struggle with the question of why we are so beloved by our Creator as to be granted the gift of life at all.
Freedom’s Shadow Side
We are, of course, always free to resist Faith and dismiss Hope, which are the center of the Virtue of Ambiguity.
We are free to demand our own terms, to pursue power over what we are incapable of controlling.
We are free to remain restless, impatient, skeptical creatures, if we choose.
We are free to deny, even reject, the liberating paradox of the Unknown with our resistant demands to have it all.
We are free to eschew the responsibility of respecting our own calling to goodness, to kick against the consolations of Ambiguity, to pursue denial and avoidance as we travel our own ill-advised path – even if we become lost along the way.
But the inescapable truth of our universal human limitations insists that our wisest path is to embrace the simple wisdom of Faith and the greater freedom of Hope which unaided human knowing can never afford.
The Virtue of Ambiguity is, in fact, the necessary and sufficient doorway to peace of mind and contentment of spirit, the brightest side of the paradox of Life and the truths of Revelation, i.e., of the truths written in Scripture … and in the human heart..
Finally . . .
Consolation in heart and soul is found not merely in the factual clarity of our intellect but in the calm and stillness of the Virtue of Ambiguity and its sustaining foundations of Faith and Hope as blessings we receive from our Creator.
A grandparent does not ask questions when a beloved grandchild nestles in his arms for a nap. He merely holds his grandchild in that loving embrace of stillness -- and gratefully allows his deepest sentiments of Love and Loyalty to fill his heart.
At moments of such genuine awe, we are (if we allow ourselves) immersed in the tranquility of innocence --- for it is we who are then held by our Creator, we who are then embraced by God.
And it is during such moments that persons of good will allow themselves to be overwhelmed by the peace of not having to know anything more than the calm and purity of “now” and the Love of God, which is the Origin of our lives.
Our embrace of Ambiguity - in Faith and Hope - is the best answer to the paradox of our Loving Creator Whom we can never fully grasp solely by human effort or logical means.
We can be sure that we have endless opportunities for goodness. We have responsibilities to one another which we are born to honor. There is no doubt: our choices for goodness are significant to our Creator, Who guides and sustains our lives, and Who has endowed us with accountability for the choices we make and the responsibilities we accept.
We will not solve all life’s mysteries, but we have sure and certain knowledge that Faith and Hope and the Virtue of Ambiguity are our best path to Love.
This we can understand -- if we will only “be still - and know“….