Thursday, January 31, 2019

Political worries

My outdoor thermometer registered 32 degrees below zero about 6:20 yesterday morning. I'm fortunate because I don't have to leave my house. On I-94 I saw traffic moving, less heavy than usual but not by much, it seemed to mepeople going to work or doing necessary chores, I'm sure.

Pre-publication tasks have taken my mind away from blogging but not from political events. On MPR I heard a political scientist review our history since 1969 and express concern for the state of our nation today.

In the January 11 to 24 issue of National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters wrote,
The country is headed into some rough and uncharted waters. We Americans have not witnessed such a direct threat to democratic norms since, well, never.
This is worse than Watergate, worse than the McCarthy hearings. Our nation has faced other kinds of crisis, from the Civil War to the Great Depression, and in those times the constancy of our democratic norms has been a source of solidarity.
He expressed doubt that Republican leaders today would act as courageously as Republican leaders during the Watergate era.

I take heart from the editorial in the same issue of NCR, which quotes a roster of respected conservative columnists, all critics of Trump: Michael Gerson, George Will, the late Charles Krauthammer, and David Brooks. I consider them true conservatives, whom I distinguish from right-wingers.

In the latest developmentnew ones come every day—Trump lashed out at intelligence chiefs who corrected his false claims. He called them "naive" and suggested they "go back to school." Some people are outraged by his foolishness. Not I.
I laugh at the image of a kindergartner mouthing off at college professors.

Although I title this post "Political worries," I'm less worried than most. I think, finally,  Trump's boast that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose voters, which so far seemed accurate, will prove less than prophetic. 
As the foolishness and cruelty of right-wing ideology grows impossible to miss, it is bound eventually to be undone.

Looking for the silver cloud, I see how this unsavory Trump saga has uncovered trends in our political system that need mending. Only when the public can clearly see what's wrong can remedies occur. Signs of public awakening appear for eyes to see. 

Awareness is growing that capitalist markets left unregulated cause severe injustice. Groups historically excluded from power have been roused to action. They're entering politics. 
Women and other marginalized groups are smarter about societal norms because they've had to swim in waters not of their own culture. We can realistically expect more diversity in political leaders to produce good outcomes. 

When things reach their lowest point, there's nowhere to go but up. Trump is not the cause of what's wrong; he's the effect. And also the billboard showing what needs to change. 

Before the 2016 election, a psychic friend received the image of the sun rising at the horizon, about to rise over it. After that election, she saw the sun higher, above the horizon and still rising.

The picture may be bleak now, but I have faith in our system surviving and growing stronger from it. My generation will not see the far-reaching consequences. They'll appear after we're gone.

(I'm powerless to control the  font change.)


Friday, January 11, 2019

Catholic teachings change

In a conversation about the Catholic Church's infallibility doctrine, someone insisted that its teachings have never changed. This claim upholds its infallibility doctrine, but the claim is easy to refute. I quickly compiled this list.

The Church changed its teaching on slavery. In Paul's Letter to Philemon, he assumes that the slaveholder Philemon rightfully owns his slave Onesimus but urges Philemon to treat Onesimus kindly. Today the Church teaches that slavery is intrinsically sinful or always wrong.

The Church changed its teaching on usury by first saying it's always wrong to saying we ought to charge interest fairly and reasonably.

The Church changed its teaching on cosmology. I need only mention Galileo, whom the Inquisition found guilty of heresy and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life for saying the earth revolves around the sun instead of the sun revolving around the earth.

The Church changed its teachings on women and this change continues. Hierarchical statements in the past disrespected women to the point of doubting women have souls. Today official rhetoric professes to respect women, but actions demonstrate unwillingness to share power with them. Unofficial attitudes range from ignorant bias to pressuring the official Church for more women in decision-making roles. Most Church faithful disagree with the official ban on ordination of women.

The Church continues to change its positions on gender and sexual matters, including the hot-button issues of gays, contraception, divorce, and women's ordination. Again, people outside of the hierarchy or magisterium are leading the way.

Decades ago, international aid organizations started realizing the need to listen to and learn from people in communities they wanted to help. Catholic officials need to do this, but fiercely they resist. I think their resistance is driven by fear and hatred of women's sexuality and power.

So far the magisterium still controls; Vatican bureaucracies remain in place. But they can't prevail much longer. A shift away from top-down decisions is happening in all society and affecting the institutional Church.

Clergy sex abuse finally prods lay Catholics, especially women--as in secular society--to reject the authority of the Vatican. Individuals bypass it and make their own decisions on deeply personal matters. Inevitably, lay Catholics will triumph and change official positions on issues that inflame public discourse.

The question is, how long will it take? And how many more Catholics will leave in the meantime?

Changes on issues inflaming public debate work hand in hand with changes in teachings on divinity and our relationship with it. Libraries are filled with them. Catholic educators today include science and other religions in reflections on transcendence. I detect less focus on the Father/Son myth and more focus on teachings of Jesus. I hope this leads away from worshiping God-images to building healthy relationships.

Although the Catholic Church is changing, its pace is too slow for me. I don't go to Catholic sources when I seek spiritual guidance, but my Catholic heritage accompanies me always. I find that, when an author affects me deeply, he or she often was nurtured by the Catholic Church and then moved on. It suggests that others are walking a path like mine.

For religion it is the best of times and the worst of times. As the shrinking globe feeds religious imagination a richer diet, it is forced to grow beyond the restricted images of one religion. Traditional religions are giving way to generic or what I call secular spirituality, independent of religion. It is an exhilarating time to live.


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Epiphany (revealing moment)

When I was growing up, Catholics believed that Epiphany celebrates three kings who visited Jesus in the manger. Today the word epiphany is more pregnant with meaning. Various definitions of epiphany show its intangible quality—flash, insight, inspiration, realization. Epiphanies are sudden flashes of awakening to the inner realm.

To illustrate, I am re-posting a story I wrote about in this space before.
In Fingerprints of God, Barbara Bradley Hagerty never speaks the word “epiphany” but that’s what she writes about,  reluctantly. She was a little embarrassed, “spooked,” to find herself experiencing transcendence.

An NPR correspondent, Hagerty explores whether science can find physical evidence of God in her book, Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality. She wanted to know,
Does brain activity reflect encounters with a spiritual dimension? 
I’m glad she used terms like “spiritual dimension,” “transcendence” and “spiritual reality” and never reduced God to a humanlike individual or god.

Belief in matter-only dominates science—93% of scientists believe God is a delusion conjured up by the brain. Spiritual matters, it’s assumed, are no subject for scientific observation, but in the last 20 years some neuroscientists have started looking for physical evidence of the spiritual world.

Is God only the result of chemical processes? Of a God spot in the brain? Only the activity of nerve cells? Or do people actually touch the Transcendent? Hagerty concludes that science can’t prove or disprove God, but she believes there’s something there.

There is a lobe in the brain that apparently registers awareness of Spirit and there is a phenomenon called temporal lobe epilepsy. Some scientists to believe that religious greats like Moses, Joan of Arc, Mohammed, Teresa of Avila, Joseph Smith, the Buddha, and Paul on the way to Damascus had this condition. But Hagerty doesn’t buy it. She thinks the temporal lobe mediates spiritual experience instead of causing it.

She illustrates. Turn off a radio and you don’t hear the music but it’s still being transmitted by the station. Just so, Spirit is always transmitting, but some brains turn it off or have the volume so low it’s hard to hear.

Others are sensitive to it, attuned to it, and a few have the volume so high they actually may need medical help. Hagerty thinks people with better antennae have more transcendent moments.

Right here is the crux of disagreement between non-believers and believers. Believers can be well aware of religious tyranny, fraud, and foolishness but not dismiss religion entirely. We think some spiritual entity initiates transcendent events. We believe epiphanies come from a reality outside of our individual consciousness, although we can cultivate habits that develop better antennae to receive them.

We can’t be shaken from our profound conviction of Something Beyond this surface world, and we base this on experience. The philosopher/psychologist William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience quotes such persons:
God is more real to me than any thought or thing or person.
God surrounds me like a physical atmosphere.
And he comments about this conviction:
These feelings of reality . . . are, as a rule, much more convincing than results established by mere logic ever are. . . . if you do have them . . . you cannot help regarding them as genuine perceptions of truth, as revelations of a kind of reality which no adverse argument, however unanswerable by you in words, can expel from your belief.
James addresses rationalist pooh-poohing of anything spiritual.
If you have intuitions at all, they come from a deeper level of your nature than the loquacious level which rationalism inhabits. . . . something in you absolutely knows that [the transcendent moment] must be truer than any logic-chopping rationalistic talk, however clever, that may contradict it.
Because William James looks at spirituality as a disinterested observer, his conclusions have more credibility for me than those of any religious writer. The same applies to Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s Fingerprints of God. Both console and uplift me.

Vincent Smiles commented, "The notion that scientists reject belief in God because of science is not accurate." For more of his comment, go to Epiphany vs. materialism.