American Exceptionalism

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Great power is not an infinitely liberating force but a bottomless (infernal) pit.” American Exceptionalism is no different from the exceptionalism of any preceding empire. If fear is the greatest motivating force, when will the fear of the destruction of the planet through human-caused climate change, through human-caused destruction of the environment, through the high possibility of human-caused nuclear annihilation, overcome the fear of the loss of American power and hegemony, which is already dwindling in any case? Do we really want to “make America great again”? Even if that were possible? Are we really so crass and short-sighted that we want to bring about the destruction of the whole world? So far, we are proving that we are so.

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Nietzsche’s challenge

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Nietzsche’s challenge: Faith means the will to avoid knowing what is true.

(This usually appears on the Internet as: “Faith: not wanting to know what the truth is.”)

The quote, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him” is from Nietzsche’s “The Gay Science” (or “The Joyful Wisdom”). “Faith means the will to avoid knowing what is true” is from Nietzsche’s “The Antichrist”.

When Nietzsche says that “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him”, although he is an atheist, he is not referring to the actual reality of God. He is referring to the fact that in the hearts of men and women, God no longer has a presense. Regardless of whether God is a reality or not, we have killed him in our hearts. Nietzsche is saying that we can no longer derive our morals and ethics from our outmoded notion of God. We don’t need God anymore.

This is a huge calamity for a considerable period of time, even if God is not a reality. We are still well within this period of time. It is a much greater calamity if God is a reality, for then we are denying the moral authority of the source of all. This is downright suicidal.

Nietzsche asserts in various places the equilvalent of “Faith is not wanting to know what is true“, and he is certainly not always referring to religious faith when he says it. He spent a lifetime referring to misguided faith in politics and in societies, referring with scorn to the notions of a secular German beer-drinking public. However, in “The Antichrist” he is referring specifically to faith in Christ.

Both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, the first two “existentialists”, have scorn for Christendom. But whereas Nietzsche scorns religious faith, Kierkegaard defends the Christian faith in God. For Kierkegaard, contra Nietzche, faith is a passionate longing to know what is true. Both think of Christendom as being in a rotten state, but whereas Nietzsche is an atheist, Kierkegaard is a believer in the Son of God, in the reality of Jesus as being a true and faithful sign into the nature of God.

We are all children of the Enlightenment. We have been taught to believe in Reason, and that the pursuit of Reason will lead us to the truth. Does reason have its limitations? And whether reason has limitations or not, are humans unable to utilize it to find truth that is undistorted? Certainly humans have used reason to discover an astounding amount of objective truth about the world. But we have been far less successful in discovering subjective truth, in explaining our inwardness, in discovering who we are. We have lifeless, textbook speculations on our inwardness that are reductive of who we are. Is reason incapable of discovering truly who we are? For perceiving our essence, our inwardness? If reason is incapable of that, is there another mode for perceiving truth?

Kierkegaard believed so.

C. Stephen Evans, in his book “Faith Beyond Reason: a Kierkegaardian Account”, has a brilliant discussion of these questions. In it he asserts that Kierkegaard’s main concerns are twofold: “an emphasis on the ways that sinfulness and finitude limit human thinking, and on the ways that certain emotions and passions are necessary in order to get at religious truth. If Kierkegaard is right, then a good deal of the intellectual practices and attitudes that are taken as ‘reasonable’ by sinful human beings do not in fact help us get on track with truth. To make contact with truth we need to be reshaped from the ground up, and for Kierkegaard that requires a reorientation of our deepest desires.” I urge you to read this book.

For Our Sake

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I want to put this very simply and emphatically:

We do not exist for the sake of the Other.

We do not exist for the sake of the Other known as God.

We do not exist for the sake of the Other known as our “selfish genes”.

We do not exist for the sake of the Other known as Capitalism.

We do not exist for the sake of the Other known as Democracy.

We do not exist for the sake of the Other known as Science.

We do not exist for the sake of the Other known as Truth.

We do not exist for the sake of the Other known as …..   anything you can name.

We exist for ourselves and in cooperation with each other and in harmony with our environment, or else we don’t exist.

We are weak creatures who need to reflect on this every day.

 

The Tragedy of Losing Faith

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What happens to a man or woman when they lose faith in God? The article cited below is a study of what happens to Jewish rabbis when they lose their faith, and their belief, in God. [You can just click on the link, and to read the full text of the article, just click on one of the “Full Text” options on the right-hand side of the screen.]

http://smithandfranklin.com/current-issues/When-Rabbis-Lose-Faith-Twelve-Rabbis-Tell-their-Stories-about-their-Loss-of-Belief-in-God/9/16/126

All of the rabbis who responded have lost their belief in God. They still have beliefs, however, which they cling to. But have they lost their faith? I think they lost that long ago. And what is it that they still believe in? For some probably, and hopefully a minority, it is a belief in the rightness of a secular Jewish apartheid state that slowly is achieving the ethnic-cleansing elimination of its Palestinian inhabitants in the occupied territories. For others, in the main it is a belief in the value of their allegiance to aspects of traditional Jewish culture.

What the article does not discuss is the really important question of whether or not there is a built-in human quality to have faith.  Not belief, but faith. Are humans by nature people who must have faith in order to live fulfilled lives?

Historically and traditionally until modern times, at least in regions which maintained the Abrahamic religions, this faith was primarily centered on faith in God. It was not a question of belief or not. People either had faith in God or they didn’t. They either trusted God or they didn’t. There really wasn’t any question of atheism or not. This remained almost universally true, regardless of what some folks think, even during the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, when men like Jefferson were Deists. By that time faith had degenerated into mere belief for many.

Are humans by nature people who must have faith in order to live fulfilled lives?  I would say, yes. When belief in God is no longer possible, where do people turn in order to fulfill their spiritual need?  For it is imperative for their health that they find a safe place to which God can flee.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is cited in a footnote in the article. I have read some of Heschel’s books. Listen to what Heschel had to say about the fundamental necessity for faith:

A religious man is like a salamander, that legendary animal that originates from a fire of myrtlewood kept burning for seven years. Religion is born of fire, of a flame, in which the dross of the mind and soul is melted away. Religion can only thrive on fire. A life of religion is an altar. ‘Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually; it shall not go out ’ (Leviticus 6:6). Man cannot live without acts of exaltation, without moments of trembling and revering, without being transported by grandeur. For weeks and months he may be confined to the routine of sensible interests, until an hour arrives when all his habits burst under the strain. Common sense may sign a decree that life be kept under the lock of average conceptions, but much in our lives is meant to be burned up in a holy flame or it will rot in monstrous deeds, in evil thoughts. To satisfy his need for exaltation, man will plunge into rage, wage wars; he will set the city of Rome afire. When superimposed as a yoke, as a dogma, as a fear, religion tends to violate rather than to nurture the spirit of man. Religion must be an altar upon which the fire of the soul may be kindled in holiness.”   – (from God In Search Of Man, Abraham Joshua Heschel, page 317, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

So Heschel has pointed out the necessity for faith, but has also pointed out the disasters that occur when this degenerates into dogmatic, fear based belief.

Here are some more of his comments about the dangers of dogmatic belief, and the dangers of fundamentalism:

Worship preceded or followed by evil acts becomes an absurdity. The holy place is doomed when people indulge in unholy deeds.” “The prophet is a man who sees the world with the eyes of God, and in the sight of God even things of beauty or acts of ritual are an abomination when associated with injustice.” (from The Prophets, Volume I by Abraham Joshua Heschel, page 11 and page 212, Hendrickson Publishers)

Here is Heschel describing the necessity for faith:

Only those who have gone through days on which words were of no avail, on which the most brilliant theories jarred the ear like mere slang; only those who have experienced ultimate not-knowing, the voicelessness of a soul struck by wonder, total muteness, are able to enter the meaning of God, a meaning greater than the mind. There is a loneliness in us that hears. When the soul parts from the company of the ego and its retinue of petty conceits; when we cease to exploit all things but instead pray the world’s cry, the world’s sigh, our loneliness may hear the living grace beyond all power. We must first peer into the darkness, feel strangled and entombed in the hopelessness of living without God, before we are ready to feel the presence of His living light.” – (from God In Search Of Man, Abraham Joshua Heschel, page 140, Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

As for the historically very recent faith in science and reason, a faith in the adequacy of science and reason to become the place to which God flees, here is what Heschel says:

The claim that there are no significant questions so profound that they cannot be solved by exact sciences raises a question that seems to defy solution: How does one account for the dogmatic and monstrous presumption implied in such a claim?”  (from The Prophets, Volume II by Abraham Joshua Heschel, page 189, Hendrickson Publishers)

So where can God flee to in order to satisfy the necessity for maintaining faith?

For where shall the likeness of God be found? There is no quality that space has in common with the essence of God. There is not enough freedom on the top of the mountain; there is not enough glory in the silence of the sea. Yet the likeness of God can be found in time, which is eternity in disguise.”  (from The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel, page 16, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

So Heschel is saying that God can be found right here in spacetime, eternity in disguise.

For me the easiest place in spacetime to find this eternity is in music. For me, God has fled into the realm of music.

Here is a tiny excerpt from a blogpost of mine that expresses my faith:

Nowhere is this highest use of musical art more apparent than in the music of Mozart and Beethoven. [I dare say that it comes to its greatest fruition in Beethoven’s Quartet in C-sharp minor, Opus 131, where in the 4th Movement (of 7 movements), the highest and most sublime arch, greater than that of any cathedral [including Chartres], has been erected on top of the movements which preceded it. In this movement, time is utterly still, and it works. But, of course, time must paradoxically come back into play, and it does so overwhelming and conclusively, and one might almost say, convulsively in the final 3 movements.]

Beethoven actually brought that eternity to our ears. Of course, that eternity cannot last. We are plunged back into time. The human achievement of eternity will always be a labor. But, paradoxically, I should also point out that this eternity is sometimes available to us just by opening our eyes and seeing what’s there. But we get in the way of ourselves when we try to do that. Consciousness steps in, and then we are done for. Consciousness is the inevitable original sin for us humans. That is the human condition. Before consciousness, before humans and their judgments, Creation was simply “good”.  Consciousness is a great blessing, but if we misuse it, it is also a great curse.

Newt Gingrich’s Sharia Deportation Test

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A friend pointed out Newt Gingrich’s Sharia Deportation Test to me:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/hodakatebi/will-newt-gingrich-deport-you-2hjor

I took the quiz. Result: I was told that Newt Gingrich is going to have me deported. That is kind of ironic, since some of my ancestors lived in what is now known as Minnesota at least 10,000 years before any of Newt’s ancestors set foot in North America.

Regarding the quiz itself, I am trying to find it amusing that the “grader” of the quiz judges that I would perhaps be receptive to the idea of living in a country governed by Shari’a, as I regard the separation of church and state as being critical to the establishment of a just society. Also, Shari’a is undoubtedly not uniform among predominantly Muslim countries, maybe even not so within a Muslim country.  So which body of Shari’a, according to the judge of the quiz, do I supposedly lean towards?

I want to stress that my concern is not with religion as such, only with the fundamentalist versions of it, and that I am no more critical of Islamic fundamentalism than I am of Christian fundamentalism, of which I’ve had a belly full of here in the USA.

What I strenuously object to is the view of many fundamentalists that it is OK and desirable that their brand of laws and morality should be willfully imposed on the whole of a society.  I am not a multiculturalist who abandons judgment. I am not a post-modernist thinker who frequently abandons reason and meaning altogether.  I am as opposed to the fundamentalist Christian view that opposes Roe-v-Wade and “keeps women in their place” as I am to the Islamic fundamentalist view that approves of virtual female slavery and, even in some Muslim countries, female genital mutilation. It can be argued, of course, that the theologies of these religions do not support these fundamentalist views, and that the problem is merely a cultural one. But the fact that these fundamentalist views are supported strongly by adherents to one fundamentalist version of religion or another does make it a question of religion.

I am as opposed to the fundamentalist views that are pandered to by Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich and held by Mike Pence as I was opposed to the fundamentalist views of the late Ayatollah Khomeini.

I am not questioning the religion of peaceful adherents to any religion, even though I have no adherence to any religious doctrine, not even that of Unitarian-Universalism, many of whose adherents, by-the-way,  have an uncritical adherence to the notion of multiculturalism. I am not an upbeat liberal who “views plurality as inherently beneficial and conflict between moral values as invariably energizing.”  [I am not speaking of ethnic and cultural diversity per se, but of the insistence of those groups who try to impose their entire version of what purports to be morality on an entire society.] The only morality that I insist upon is that no one is entitled to murder or torture,  or to advocate either one:  this stricture applies to political leaders and their adherents from non-Muslim countries (the USA and Israel, in particular) as well as to political leaders and their adherents from Muslim countries.

This stricture needs to be observed by those in the West who have too little adherence to any notion of the value and meaning of life, as well as by those in the Muslim world who have an excess of conviction that they know what the meaning of life is.

“If pre-modern cultures were generally less bothered by the meaning of life than Franz Kafka, the same would seem to be true of postmodern ones. In the pragmatist, streetwise climate of advanced postmodern capitalism, with its skepticism of big pictures and grand narratives, its hard-nosed disenchantment with the metaphysical, [the notion of] ‘life’ is one among a whole series of discredited totalities. We are invited to think small rather than big – ironically, at just the point when some of those out to destroy Western civilization are doing exactly the opposite. In the conflict between Western capitalism and radical Islam, a paucity of belief squares up to an excess of it. The West finds itself faced with a full-blooded metaphysical onslaught at just the historical point that it has, so to speak, philosophically disarmed. As far as belief goes, postmodernism prefers to travel light: it has beliefs, to be sure, but it does not have faith.”   —  [From Terry Eagleton’s “The Meaning of Life: a Very Short Introduction” ]

I’m sure that Shari’a is not uniform among the many countries that are predominantly populated by Muslims. And maybe Shari’a is not any more or less just than Western law. Maybe the essential difference is that Shari’a is designed to promote social cohesiveness and regards notions of liberty and diversity as not being as important as we do in the West. We in the West tend to ignore the huge costs to social cohesiveness associated with the individual pursuit of liberty and the liberal commitment to diversity.  We live in a system that during better times promotes harmonious frustration, and during worse times promotes the violence and injustice that we see in the USA today.  I wonder what the billions of young Muslims today think about liberty and diversity.  Surely they must be tempted by these liberal ideas that, in the West, are promulgated without much thought, where the words “options” and “choice” are spoken so smoothly and habitually?

I am too used to living in the liberal West, [have had a bellyful of the neo-liberal West] and for too many years have ignored the darkside of our “enlightened” views. At my advanced age I could not possibly think of living anywhere else regardless of Newt Gingrich’s view on the matter. But I’m grateful that I’m still alive enough to learn a thing or two.

 

Bernie Betrays His Backers

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Today Bernie threw his support to Clinton, and withdrew his support from his backers, berning them badly.

Today Bernie Sanders betrayed his backers, all those millions of Americans who contributed small sums of money to produce his unprecedented political war chest of $220 million. He betrayed all those millions of Americans who believed him when he said that he was a socialist. He betrayed all those millions of Americans who are fed up with neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism.

Hillary Clinton is both a dangerous neo-conservative and a dangerous neo-liberal.  Her super hawkish actions and positions as Secretary of State on Syria, Libya, Honduras, Ukraine show her to be a dogmatic neo-con, and the candidate most likely to plunge us into World War III, more likely so than her Republican opponent, Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton is also an enemy of the people, being a neo-liberal who supports the anti-democratic and anti-social policies of privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, so-called “free trade”, the financialization of the economy (which led to the financial crisis of 2007-2008), and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy. A vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote for the 1%.  Don’t vote for Hillory. Pillory Hillary instead.  That’s what she deserves.

Shame on Bernie for betraying his backers, for energizing a movement, and then leaving that movement in the lurch.

I’m voting for Jill Stein of the Green Party in November.

I’m not ever again going to waste my vote for either wing of the Republicrat Party, that duopoly of corporate-backed political hacks who have been leading the USA to ruin for a long, long time.

Orlando Massacre

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When I read my e-mail early Sunday morning and read about the Orlando Massacre, I was of course very shocked, but what strikes me is how much more I would have been shocked if we hadn’t become used to so many atrocities being perpetuated against persons of any stripe, from any country around the world today.  I am becoming somewhat desensitized, as I presume many others are. This I take to be a human defeat.

What our Presidential candidates from the two major and malodorous political parties have said about this massacre is disturbing. I will omit to say what I think about Donald Trump’s response.  When Hillary Clinton says in response to the massacre that “This is the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States and it reminds us once more that weapons of war have no place on our streets”, one is inclined to ask Hillary if USA weapons of war have any place in foreign countries, either as targets (Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, etc.) or as countries to whom weapons are supplied (Saudi Arabia, Israel, etc.). One would also be inclined to ask Hillary whether the military grade weapons that have found their way in recent years to police departments in the USA are included in what appears to be her blanket censure of weapons of war on our streets.

Building a better world today can only be a radical enterprise. How else could we feed the poor? Protect our home, the Earth? Love and respect each individual (but not, I hasten to add, an individual’s prerogative to trample on the rights of others)?  Jesus said that he brought a sword. He didn’t mean it violently. But he meant it as a radical challenge to the egos of the rulers, religious and political, who have no loyalty to God and humankind (or if one is an atheist, no loyalty to the values that God represents).

A radical, non-violent revolution is perhaps our only hope, especially since the rulers have all the tanks.