Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sacred Feminine

Last evening, on Thanksgiving eve, I was interviewed on Voices of the Sacred Feminine. You can listen to this Internet Radio program while performing other tasks. I feel good about the information I gave on progressive Christians. I just noticed that Karen Tate, the interviewer, tripped over my title, saying, “God is not 3 gods in the Sky.” Others have made that mistake—I’ve caught myself doing it—and I don’t mind because it also expresses my message.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I'm a pro-choice Catholic

To the question, “Are you pro-life or pro-choice?” I answer, “Both.” What has been missing in the pro-life stance is nuance and common sense. Well, also on the pro-choice side, but I suspect few of my readers sympathize with that side and already know that.
Charles Curran gets respect for his sound moral theology and for openly dissenting from official Catholic moral theology. I’ve admired him for years. Not surprisingly, the Vatican, led by Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict, has forced his removal from Catholic teaching posts for a number of years, but Curran is at it again and again drawing fire for it, this time from the U.S. Catholic bishops whose stance on abortion he challenges.
His challenges to the bishops iterate my concerns. Forty years ago I wrote a letter to liberal columnist Ellen Goodman, who strongly argued for abortion rights. I argued that, because we don’t know when human life begins, abortion is wrong.

Curran also points to our ignorance about the moment of ensoulment and cites Church documents admitting this. Because of our uncertainty, he states, we should not risk ending a human life in the womb. BUT, for the same reason, we can’t say abortion is murder or that abortion has more importance than other moral issues. According to Curran,
In my judgment, the U.S. bishops claim too great a certitude for their position on abortion law and fail to recognize that their own position logically entails prudential judgment so that they cannot logically distinguish it from most of the other issues such as the death penalty, health care, nuclear deterrence, housing, . . .
In the last six months I’ve gotten a more cogent reason to oppose the absolutist pro-life position that human life begins at conception—reincarnation theory.
In the first half of the twentieth century, Edgar Cayce induced in himself a sleep state during which he gave medical advice that proved accurate and beneficial to hundreds of persons requesting his help. An uneducated man, Cayce himself was surprised by what he learned his voice said during his altered states of consciousness.
Nothing surprised him more than his voice commenting on past lives and thus positing reincarnation. Apropos abortion, I quote from Many Mansions: The Edgar Cayce Story on Reincarnation:
It would seem from the Cayce data that the soul can enter the body shortly before birth, shortly after birth, or at the moment of birth. As much as twenty-four hours can elapse after an infant is born before the soul makes entry.
Curran also raised the question of what’s feasible and practical in abortion law. This approaches my reasons for strongly opposing the criminalization of abortion. To put it bluntly, whom would we prosecute? Do we really want our country to imprison women—perhaps single mothers—for choosing abortion in desperate circumstances. Do we want to imprison doctors for trying to relieve desperate mothers?

And then there’s the evidence that criminalizing abortion does not reduce their number. This is not the place to give details.
All I can do here is outline the reasons that the phrase “prochoice Catholic” is not an oxymoron. Curran gets the last word:
One who holds the Catholic moral teaching can come to different conclusions about what the law should be.

Abortion again (November 24)
I received this email:
Did you know that St. Thomas regarded ‘ensoulment’ to occur 90 days after conception? In a medieval text I studied, the time given was 40 days after conception. The Roman Catholic Church got into a mess when it talked of ‘the moment of conception’ in 1854. Biologists say there is no such ‘moment.’
Wilfred Theisen
He’s a monk and retired physics professor, and he added,
One of our quite conservative priests, an excellent theologian, has been saying for some time that the patriarchs have lost their moral authority in the church.
Religious persons like this and like the Presentation Sisters I met in Fargo this past weekend help me to cherish my religious tradition.

In spring I started cleaning up and shortening my blog index in hopes of making it more useful. If you’ve clicked on a topic and the page didn’t exist, it’s because my tech helpers hadn’t finished entering the changes I requested.

I couldn’t keep this blog without Peter and Tony Ohmann, who grew up in Albany, MN, until they attended St. John’s University to study Computer Science. Peter graduated with honors and distinction in December of 2009 and moved to Arkansas, but in January he will move to the University of Wisconsin in Madison to pursue a Masters degree and potentially a PhD. He and Tony started Obros Computers when he was a junior in high school. In Peter's words, “We’ve done repairs, PC builds, web development, and a bunch more miscellaneous things over the years--mostly for families or small businesses.”

This is my favorite computer geek story.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Stephen Hawking, Sam Harris, etc.

On Friday, November 5, NPR’s Ira Flatow hosted a discussion on Science & Morality by four philosophers and scientists. One of them was Sam Harris, best known for his book, The End of Faith. As readers can see in my previous posts, I agree with much that he says, but Friday’s discussion pitted science against religion with science coming out on top. I never heard the word “spiritual,” although I admit I didn’t hear the beginning of it.

What I heard reinforces my opinion that the gap between believers and non-believers in “God” could be narrowed if both sides distinguished between religions and spirituality and if both sides spoke about spiritual reality instead of “God,” which carries negative religious baggage. The four indicated their disdain for religion when they answered a listener’s question: “How can science and religion inform each other?” Their answer: Religion cannot inform science—it’s a one-way street.

Scientists take pride in their discipline providing factual proof, and they charge that religion teaches beliefs not supported by facts. That’s true, but see my previous post for why it’s no reason to disdain spirituality. I use the word “spirituality” because religions do teach a lot of nonsense. What’s missing from the perspective of materialistic science is the whole realm of Spirit. Many scientists fail to realize that physical facts don't make up the entire body of truth.

In another part of the discussion, the panelists mentioned compassion, love, and gratitude but failed to identify them as spiritual values. They couldn’t decide whether these values are subject to scientific experiment. Although sociologists do studies around the edges of these realities, science can’t determine what is honorable, who is compassionate, how much love exists in a marriage, what makes people trust, how to encourage altruism, why gratitude eases relationships, and so on.

If they were able to distinguish spirituality from religion, they’d realize that spiritual values lie outside the purview of science. And they might be closer to realizing that science cannot settle the question of whether God exists, it can’t say why we distinguish right from wrong. And they might have the humility to admit that humans need spiritual help. I don’t quibble with their definition of morality—whatever contributes to the well-being of humans and animals. But science in no way has all the answers for our well-being.

Interestingly, this quotation emerged from the Science Friday discussion, presumably to challenge foolish religious beliefs that contradict science.
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, is still there.
Very good. It challenges religious nonsense, and I challenge scientists to consider that spiritual reality exists whether or not they believe in it. The spiritual realm exists despite religion’s often poor representation of it.

Not explained by science (November 13)
Scientific materialists accept as real only the concrete, physical universe, but undoubtedly-real experiences of real people invalidate their denial of spiritual reality. Readers can find some in my blog index under "Paranormal" and here is Maxine Moe's story:
I awoke in the middle of the night with the news that my home was on fire. I sat up, sniffed the air, and listened. There was nothing wrong. I called it a dream and went back to sleep. Again I woke. My home was burning. This time I became more fully awake, sniffed the air repeatedly, and listened more carefully. There was no smoke in the air. All was peaceful downstairs where the two cats and dog slept. Nothing was amiss. I went back to sleep. A third time I woke. My home was on fire. This time I got out of bed to look out the windows to see if another building was on fire, the barn or old garage, or maybe the neighbor’s house across the road. All was fine, there was nothing wrong. I went back to sleep.

The next morning I was sitting down to breakfast when the phone rang. It was my sister to say that our childhood home, that I so dearly loved, burned to the ground during the night.
 
How do we know what we know, when it is beyond human knowing?

Over thirty-five years ago when my husband and I were young and trying to make a go of life against pretty great odds, we were living in an old house that we were trying to restore on a very modest income. We were deep in debt and living without basics people take for granted. We had no choice but to continue with a project that was greater than our ability and I didn’t know how we could go on, much less finish this project, while holding down jobs and raising a family. However, as I said, we had no choice. How to do it was the question. We had no money. Anyone who has done any remodeling knows that everything you do costs at least twice as much as originally planned. We simply could not afford to do it anymore.

While living this question, I spent a full day gathering all the information needed to have our taxes done by someone who knew how to claim every deduction possible. At the end of the day I placed all the information in an envelope and set it aside.

That night I dreamed that we would receive an amount something like $1,647 (I don‘t remember the exact numbers except that there were four different numbers). When I woke I thought, “What a pleasant dream!” Later in the day, we met with the tax man who told us we’d get the exact amount refunded to us as I had dreamed the night before.

Please realize, I am NOT good with figures. Maybe someone who is could have worked through them and subconsciously come up with some appropriate figure. I am not one of those people. This amount, which for most people may not seem like much now, was enough for us to go on and finish the project—which gave us the impetus to tackle the next one, and so on. We did, eventually, finish the necessary projects.

How do we know what we know, when it is beyond human knowing?
Maxine's sincerity can't be doubted. I'd like to know how scientific materialists—the likes of Stephen Hawking, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc.—would account for paranormal phenomena like Maxine's dreams, which invalidate the materialists' reduction of reality to material reality alone.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Stephen Hawking

At a Women & Spirituality conference I presented a power point distinguishing between science and spirituality. Its content follows naturally after the posts on Sam Harris.

One of the most respected scientists living, Stephen Hawking, concludes that the creation of the universe did not need a divine force, that it was the inevitable consequence of physical laws. He thinks we can write God out of physics as Darwin wrote God out of biology.
Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to . . . set the universe going.
But science can’t explain humans relating to Infinity—a universal occurrence. And it can't explain the complexities of people relating to each other—the interpersonal dynamics, the I-Thou relationships deeper and more complex than can be expressed in words, in logic, in numbers.

Science deals with facts, which it gathers by measurements and linear reasoning. It analyzes logically in a controlled, rational way. Religious insights come intuitively and involve the artistic dimension of human minds. Religion has no authority regarding information about the physical world; it communicates in myths and symbols. Religious leaders who don’t understand this provide fodder for scoffers at religion. One frustrated bishop, for instance, couldn’t understand why religious doctrines couldn’t be taught and memorized like math facts.

Life requires more than the skills used in science. It takes imagination and courage that go beyond logic. It costs more effort, more risk taking, and more energy than logic might advise; it requires independent and creative thinking. So even from a purely mundane point of view, science can’t provide all the answers or ensure success in life.
Days before Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Britain, Stephen Hawking released his new book, The Grand Design, which ignited controversy over his denial that God exists.
Rowan Williams, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, responded,
Science provides us with a wonderful narrative as to how existence may happen but theology addresses the meaning of the narrative.
Now I bring into the debate someone we might expect to support Hawking because he’s an atheist, but I call André Comte-Sponville an atheist mystic. See if you agree. These are his statements in The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality:
For any finite spirit, the truth of the universe must indeed be mysterious. How can we expect to understand and explain everything, given the fact that the ‘everything’ was here long before we were, and formed us, and permeates our very being, and surpasses us in every direction? One does not need much lucidity to grasp the fact that being is a mystery.”

The All . . . has no creator. All creators being part of it, they cannot create the All by itself. [It is] at once uncreated and creative.
This is a good definition of God! And it comes from an atheist. Obviously I as a religious person do not agree with everything Comte-Sponville says, but that analysis I’ll leave for another day.
Now I refer you to my answer to the question of God’s existence. Wrong question! See if you agree with me.