Thursday, July 27, 2017

My spiritual Atheist Friend

I’m coming off a satisfying discussion with a thoughtful atheist friend I’ll call Ben. We’ve known each other for about 30 years but hadn’t seen each other since he moved to take a position far away. We kept communicating. Finally he returned to central Minnesota to visit me and others. What draws us together? We both are in thrall to metaphysical questions.

I do not know a person with more integrity than my atheist friend Ben; I don’t know anyone more principled. I also like him because he and I agree on everything except the biggest questions of existence. We agree on politics and on much about religion.

The morning before our talk, I submitted a letter to National Catholic Reporter in response to a trial Eucharistic Prayer that its author says reflects “the quantum-cosmological-developmental-evolutionary worldview” of today. Its topic was a fitting introduction to the discussion of metaphysical matters that Ben and I had later in the day.

The morning after our pleasant and scintillating talk, I woke up before 4:00 a.m. a little dizzy from a whoosh of thoughts coming in quick succession. Dozens of times I turned on the bedside lamp to write them down. Always I had to turn the light off for the next thought to surface.  Interesting, that it took darkness for them to show themselves.

This fact is not irrelevant to the issue crowding my mind, the Inner Realm, which likes to show itself in unobtrusive, hidden ways. Parker Palmer says it’s like looking for wild animals. You have to wait quietly in the woods a while before they show themselves. Darkness and my letting go allowed more messages from that Inner Realm to show themselves.

After talks with Ben, my mind teems with points I want to make in debating him. I hope he would agree that ours is a relationship of mutual respect.

He has moved past the place where atheists I know and read—Ben an exception—stay stuck, railing against institutional religion. Many atheists seem to think the sins of religion prove there is no God. But the wrongs of institutional religions—their stupidity, hypocrisy, corruption, and so on—prove nothing about what's called "God."

It also is pointless to stop at saying, "I don't believe in God," because the question is this: What idea of God do you not believe in?  When they profess disbelief, atheists argue against the least elevated God-concept coming from religion. That dumb idea booted me out of religion into the lap of atheism years ago.

No religion owns what is called “God.” It does not take orders from the pope or anyone else.

I admit I also rail at institutional religion, specifically its sexist God-talk. Christian prayers teach Christians to think God is like humans, only more perfect. A speaker on MPR once caught my attention by saying that we can’t say what God is any more than a horse can say what a human mind is.

Male terms for God such as Lord/King/Father/Son-—what I call sexist God-talk because Lady/Mother/Daughter are not accepted—cramp understanding of what is called “God.” Inclusive God-names would broaden understanding. I like these: Source, Creator, Divinity, Spirit, Force, Guide, Love. And mixing up genders, naming the Source both “Mother” and “Father,” would suggest the foolishness of trying to define God.

Ben accepts the fact of consciousness. After all, quantum science makes it irrefutable. But Ben does not interpret consciousness as I do. I see consciousness—our thoughts, beliefs, feelings, attitudes, expectations, and intentions—as evidence of spiritual reality. He doubts there is anything but physical reality.

I take from Teilhard de Chardin the view that there is a within distinct from the without, and Teilhard calls the within “consciousness.” 

Ben used to be sure that the physical brain gives rise to thoughts, that physical stuff creates non-physical stuff. Now that quantum science forces physicists to admit that consciousness creates physical reality on the quantum level, he isn’t so sure. To me, the findings of quantum physics evince our spiritual selves.

All our physical actions flow from our mind activity or consciousness. Our consciousness creates our reality. I find support for my opinion in a book by two physicists. I think Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness by Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner demonstrates, irrefutably, that consciousness or mind activity creates physical reality. So “Consciousness” is another possible God-name.

Those who share my fascination with these questions are depriving themselves if they don’t study Quantum Enigma. A theologian, Vincent Smiles, recommended the book to me, and an amateur physicist recommended it to Ben, who hasn't read it yet. Because science is not my area of strength, I skip parts that go into torturous (in my view) explanation of how experiments are set up and carried out. “Get to the result!” I say. I’m writing this to encourage others who might be bored or intimidated by science.

When I read Quantum Enigma, when I so much as open the book and reread parts I highlighted, my heart races. It is so exciting!

Science, theology, and philosophy today are moving closer together. They used to repudiate each other; they used to refute each other. Today they converge as science finds evidence for what religions have been pointing to, symbolically, for millennia. The Inner Realm exists in, under, around, and through outer reality.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

One-room Public/Catholic School

I haven’t blogged because I’m working on my memoir. Asking for input on rural schools in Stearns County, I received this wonderful description by Bernadette Weber, OSB.
It will delight some; it might dismay others.
Here is just a snapshot of my grade school life.
Attending District 125 Public Country School was a rich experience.
 Being among 50 students in 8 grades with one teacher helped us be creative in using our time.
When in the lower and middle grades, I would listen to the interesting classes of the upper grades.
      We had wardrobes to keep our coats etc. (one for the boys and one for the girls).
When I finished my assigned work, I got to take the first graders for reading class in the wordrobe. Although I wasn’t aware of it, that was my first practice teaching.
 We also had a library, so could spend time reading books.

    In our school all the students and the teacher were Catholic. When I think about it, we were like a parochial school. We had a crucifix in the classroom and had Bible History classes twice a week and The Baltimore Catechism the other three days.
     We probably got more religion than parochial school students. We also went to religion classes on Saturdays.
On Sundays the pastor would ask catechism questions from the pulpit.

We got to participate at the county fair. I remember being in the exclamatory contest. There were also spelling bees.

     Recess time we usually played with our classmates.  The classes had their sections of the playground in which to play their choice of games.
Of course, anyone who could play ball did so. The pump for our drinking water was in the way when we played, so we had to be careful. My sister, knocked out a tooth bumping into the pump.

At the end of the school term we had a picnic. It wasn’t just food. We also had races of every kind: running races, sack races, high jumping., stilt walking.
Name it, we did it. We got our exercise at recess, at picnics and walking to school. My home was 2 ½ miles from school. Think of it: a first grader walking 5 miles a day.

Since we were in school with brothers and sisters, we never tattled. Anyway, with my parents the teacher was always right. Respect for authority was upheld.
We didn’t call it a wardrobe. We called it “the cloakroom.” I was pretty old before I figured out why it was called that. I went to the village school, not a one-room school, but this describes the culture of my childhood. Our school stood next to the church, priest’s house, and parish cemetery. We ate lunch in the parish hall.

Nora Luetmer, OSB, wrote a master’s thesis entitled, “The History of Catholic Education in the Diocese of St. Cloud: 1855-1965.” It shows that public schools in the county were treated like parochial schools. During my school days—in the 1950s—it changed.

During my primary grades, the priest came into school to teach catechism. By my seventh and eighth grades, the public school changed from just acting Catholic to becoming legally a Catholic parochial school funded by the parish. Some parishioners couldn’t understand why they should pay taxes for education twice.