POEM: The Meaning of Vex Lex

In a universe beyond apprehension
She caught herself
Vexing once again
Is there meaning?
Looking above
The stars just winked
Looking below
The grass said
“How can you stand it?”
Looking forward
Her next meal said
“Eat me.”
Looking back
She grasped so many broken peaces
Looking in
She divined an unfathomable whole
On her look out
Giving weigh
Too eternal vigilantes
Buy passing awe
The enduring
Rejoined her
Instead fast
As kin
Neighboring on
Know ledge
And good will
In solid-air-ity
Surfing
With lonely
A stout bored
For a pair a docks
To weigh anchor
In what was meant
For sailing
Weather a loan
Or going on and on
Con currently
Now and again
Making head weigh
When put to see
Awe to gather

This poem was inspired by a facebook post asking, “Is it the human curse to be constantly seeking meaning in life when there really isn’t any?”  This poem is for you, Polly, and all of angst-ridden humanity.  Of course, looking for ultimate meaning on facebook may be analogous to looking for love in all the wrong places.  Joking aside, I feel the existential pain of such questioning.  My conservative Christian college roommate warned that I shouldn’t take the philosophy course: Existentialism.  In a display of prudent Calvinistic theology, he said this is a place you shouldn’t go.  I was raised to question and explore.  One surefire way to raise my curiosity is to say you shouldn’t go there!  Banned books should probably well populate our reading list.  I never seriously questioned not taking the class.  Existentialism, nihilism, and the oft-elusive quest for meaning are frequent themes in my poetry and associated rants.  I would never say to not go there.  I would suggest that you not build a home there.  The profound freedom expounded upon by existential philosophers bids us travel widely and put scarce stock in a cozy number of questions or answers.

Rather than giving another pages-long rant on existentialism, or an extensive apologetic on meaning, I will let my poem due most of the work.  I will point out that I find some humor in this most serious of questions.  This poem launches with a series of anthropomorphisms, the stars, the grass, even your next meal, begging some equal standing with you to answer your question.  This is meant to be funny in multiple ways.  I find funniness a particularly good antidote to excessive seriousness.  However, for you philosophical types, projecting human qualities onto inanimate or “less animate” nature is often a first line of critique on the question of God.  I would agree that limiting your search for the supernatural in nature is setting the bar too low.  The mismatch in the adequacy of question to answer makes for a laughable pair of foolishnesses: looking to dirt to enlighten us and considering ourselves to be just dirt (albeit very complicated dirt).

Surely, we can fill a lifetime with learning about nature and its wonders, but we should look up the proverbial food chain rather than down it to find higher meaning.  Or, at a minimum, we should focus on the apparently most evolved life on earth, human beings.  If by happenstance humans are the most evolved conscious beings in our known universe, are we reduced to permutations of cannibalism, or is there some higher power to nourish us?  I find the metaphor of cannibalism as quite apt, since the first monarch of existentialist philosophers, John Paul Sartre, spoke forcefully and eloquently about two subjects never being able to connect, forever trapped in alternately being a subject and making the other an object, then being reduced to an object by the other.  Of course, any philosopher that claims that two subjects can never connect as subjects, besides permanently disabling human relationships, certainly precludes any human-God relationship (subject-Subject).   It is worth noting that later existentialist philosophers claimed that subjects can actually connect without reducing the other subject to a mere object.  Not to get caught in intractable discussions of God, it will suffice to say that I believe this, that subjects can connect with one another.  First, this recognizes that human relationships are the everyday stuff of subjective beings living out their nature.  This seems to imply that human community is foundational for human fulfillment.  More provocatively, this opens up the possibility, dare I say hope, that we can connect with some higher power (Subject) to facilitate our spiritual evolution and find greater meaning than that which can be deduced from mere facts/objects of the physical world/nature (or intuited from individual human subjects).

You may note that I consider subjects/subjectivity in the realm of the supernatural, transcending the natural (not negating it).  As confirmed by quantum physics, observers (subjects) influence and change the natural world without any evident contradictions in the deterministic aspects of the scientific world.  In short, at least some form of transcendence of the merely physical/deterministic world is allowed; in fact, necessary to account for quantum physical evidence.  Of course, this brings us full circle to where we began, leaving open the question of the nature of the indeterminate (e.g., free will) and determinate (e.g., physical) aspects of reality.  Basically, the accepted convention of modern science is that the indeterminate has no nature, which is represented by the concept of “randomness.”  Randomness is an indispensable component of the current understanding of Darwin’s evolution of species.  A relationship with nothing is necessary to stir up possibilities allowing for new configurations of life-forms [I don’t think that it was an accident that Sartre’s foundational work was titled, Being and Nothingness].  If evolution was fully determined then some form of God as a first cause with a specific nature would be necessary, and there could only be one outcome, the present reality.  I think this sort of view is rightly rejected as a poor representation of life as experienced and as any notion of God.  However comfortable you feel with the notion of randomness, evolution, as presently expounded, does a masterful job of explaining the origin of species.  However, evolution is silent, even impotent (which is key in any theory so thoroughly wrapped up in reproduction), in accounting for the origin of life itself.  This concept of randomness strikes me at least as problematic as assuming that there is any nature within the realm of indeterminacy.  While the concept of something coming from nothing has often been used to mock those of a spiritual inclination, this is an essential conundrum of modern physics, both in quantum indeterminacy and in a unifying theory for quantum physics, Newtonian physics, and the theory of general relativity which applies to astronomical scales.  The assumption that all truth lies within reductionistic science has been disproved by Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, which is a mathematical proof that there are always predicates (true statements or facts) that lie outside any possible mathematical or rational system.  Those positing some form of metaphysics (spirituality) simply claim that there is some nature outside of facts and truths that can be ascertained by reductionistic science and assembled into any rational system.  Further, many claim that we can ascertain truths about the nature of reality through subjective experience, not fully verifiable by science.  This connection to other subjective/indeterminate realities can bring about a fuller understanding of reality.  In such ethereal undertakings, I seek in solidarity with others to incarnate such realities in our lives, thus making our lives fuller, more congruent with reality.

I posit that life itself encompasses the subjective, and that there is a nature to nature, a nature that transcends and lovingly gives birth to countless wonders.  Transcendent.  Loving.  Giving birth.  Wonder full.  This is the God I seek.  We need not leap from essential uncertainty to an abyss of meaninglessness.  We need not build arbitrary prisons to some cruel god of logic, while others walk and explore a world brimming with life and meaning.  Nor do we shrink from visiting those in the darkest of places, for even God overflows there.  I seek to worship a God that cannot fit in any box anyone can construct.  I leave such gods to the dustbin. The present is evident, even if the future is not.  Life is a gift.  Pass it on.  This is the nature of life.

For those of you who waded through my rantings, or those who were wise enough to read the last paragraph first, you are now titled to learn the meaning of vex lex.  Vex lex is a takeoff on rex lex, which means “Law is king.”  Vex, of course, means to distress or bother.  Thus, vex lex means to be distressed or bothered by the prospect of law ruling our lives as our ultimate authority.  Most of us recognize that legalism often strangles life.  The law can be government or any system of thought (ideology).  We are born to be free.  Our room to grow is unending…which can be vexing.  Game on!

 

 

POEM: Know Knead to Brink

I live at the fringes
At the boundary of what is and what could be
Sow playful a lure
At the threshold of what might not be and what should be
Seriously brewed
At the edge of the abyss
I peer
Gathering friends
And enemies
So called
Out
From the owed
Into the new
Horizons discovered
Each fresh berth
Launching unforeseen recreations
On the verge of another
Unfamiliar stretches becoming home
As novel know longer
Ridden in the margins
We find ourselves
In the bosom of creation
A rootedness so moving
We share awe freely
A steadfast revel
Dispelling fear
Looking straight in the I
With know knead to brink

This poem addresses the necessity and profound benefits from living on the cutting edges, the fringes of life, and courageously facing the abyss. The abyss, at first glance may look frightful. However, I view the abyss simply as the place where those thing beyond words reside. This is the heart of subjective reality. This is scary inasmuch as we can’t pluck our experiences in this realm and “make” others understand or experience the same. This initial sort of isolation and lack of control is often experienced as uncomfortable or anxiety-provoking. Of course, experiences in this realm can profoundly influence us. I would even go as far as saying that this part of life is inextricably part of us, and even contains and encompasses the higher parts of life. However, success in the everyday world is often about “making” things happen. The more we are focused upon and enmeshed in controlling stuff, the scarier and less “useful” this abysmal realm seems. The subjective reality of the abyss doesn’t make it any less real. In fact, this metaphysical reality is where meaning resides. Those who poo poo subjective reality find their search for meaning handicapped, and tenuously moored to meaning drift toward nihilism or amoral sociopathy. Courageously facing and delving into the subjective realm is the only way to discover the mysterious purposes of life. The nature of the subjective realm is instructive in and of itself, as uncontrolling yet highly ordered. Discovering order in the abyss is the root of meaning and purpose, a higher order in which lower order matters are organized in ways increasingly harmonious with life, and reality itself. There, that doesn’t sound so scary! However, the profound limit of subjective experience is that it can not be reduced to mere facts, easily shared in bits and pieces. In essence, subjective experience is a relationship with a larger, transcendent whole. The best we can do is integrate our subjective experiences into a whole, coherent life so others may witness to an integrity not fully explainable by the sum of the factual parts. This is the equivalent of Gandhi’s “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Or St. Francis would say that we are instruments of God’s peace. I would simply add that we are more than pieces.

The fact that we are more than just pieces is the underlying reality of why salvation lies in community. The initial isolation typically felt when staring into the abyss is either the fear that there is no meaning at all, or the equivalent of standing alone before God. Still, the nature of our subjectivity is what binds us with other people, and even Subjectivity with a capital S, God if you will. Even more so than individuals, communities of people can exhibit the integrity of higher ordered living. Perhaps most importantly, the value of reciprocity is most easily manifest and understood in community. In its simplest form, a relationship between two people, the power of love grows exponentially when present with reciprocity. Love is not unconditional in the sense that one aspect of love is reciprocity, or mutuality. One cannot overcome another with love. One can only invite another into the beautiful dance of reciprocity and mutuality that powers up love for all who participate.

An important exception to this human reciprocity is the mutuality expressed in loving our enemies, those who will not return our love, or worse yet, seek to manipulate us by threatening or destroying those with whom we have built love. The mutuality in this relationship is not dependent on the other person, a subject who chooses to engage in love-building. The mutuality here is based on our relationship with life itself, or God. Life gives without forcing payment. This is the foundational grace and gratitude that drives life-affirming ways. The only force is the chaos and disorder that comes about by not living in accord with harmonious higher order. Fighting reality itself, separating ourselves from reality is our own punishment. However, since reality is one, this punishment is shared by all. Our destinies are woven together. Writing off enemies is a misreading of reality. Not surprisingly, creating separate realities for different people creates divisions and gives birth to snobbery and hypocrisy, different standards or rules for different classes of people.

I would not rely on first impressions when staring into the abyss. Patiently and openly delving into the “inner” life of subjectivity, and the “outer” experience with communities of life-affirming folks has for millennia reliably resulted in better, more whole, human beings. Only in looking beyond ourselves do we become more whole, more fully human. The abyss awaits. And the crowd says “Woo.”

POEM: As The Tao Plunges

As The Tao Plunges

I seek boundless horizons
Beyond what can be billed
What you can have
Fore walls
No bull work
A retainer for passable living
A cistern to dammed dreams
Reining upon you
Only knot to be brothered with
As some look out
Your winnows
Punctuating all that you can
A fort
Out to sea
A veritable glass menagerie
To one’s peers
Pipe dreams
Leading too
A fire place
Your hanker chief
Scant comfort you
As most daze
Facing a cold hearth
An exhausting flue
And ashen remains
Yet why carp it
When you can have
Your Parkay® floors
For butter or worse
As you slip
Pitter pottering a bout
Your life cast
Dangerously close to kiln
For my ran some
I seek the earth’s bounty
To rise up
To meet my feat
And when I fall
I shall look up
Sharing a ceiling with the stars
No guise worrying
A bout some prostrate iffy canopy
For without
You might lose your marble’s
Stony ledges looking good
As the Tao plunges
And to the great abyss plumb it
To one’s own depth

This poem explores the relationship between the commonplace cubicles of the workplace, both literally and figuratively, and the great abyss singing its siren song, daring skilled sailors to plumb it, risking one’s own depth.  A life, well, lived, requires effort.  Beyond that, I’m not a big fan of work.  This is particularly true in modern America, pawning itself off as the pinnacle of Western civilization.  You’d think that the timeless questions of humanity had been answered once and for all, and all that you had to do is buy (and sell) one of the many great brands available.  Well, in my book, brands are for cattle.  Plus, my preference for vegetarianism leaves me with little use for cattle — or sheep — or chickens.  These days, people expend huge amounts of energy, and cash, to dress themselves up with others’ brands, defining themselves by what they own — or what owns them — by what they consume — or by what consumes them!  The fact that many people will pay extra for essentially advertising another’s brand shows the vacuousness of our own unique lives.  Gee, at least get paid to be a walking billboard.  And as I like to say, if you are going to sell yourself, at least get a good price!  It seems that living vicariously through someone else’s image, identity, celebrity, or sheer familiarity in pop culture, commands more value than undamming our own dreams.

The Tao is a masterful critique of the superficial.  The Tao in Chinese history and culture plays, perfectly synchronously with itself, a balancing role in contrast to Confucianism with its focus on set rules, set roles, and the centrality of propriety.  Unfortunately, Western civilization suffers from the worst of both worlds.  Modern America lacks both the harmony and balance of the Tao, and suffers a sociopathy, even nihilism, that Confucianism holds in check.  Perhaps America can harness its restlessness to throw off the dehumanizing forces of greed and undue focus on economic necessity.  The Tao offers a vision of the rest that gives rise to all.  The Tao is more than serendipitously short.  The Tao is concise, poetic, and sparse on words precisely because reality and relentlessly emerging life cannot be reduced to any imperial plan assuring a particular outcome.  It surely cannot be reduced to a brand!  The awesome abundance of nature’s bounty and the beautiful openness of human experience invites us, even begs us, into continual re-birth and re-creation.  All of creation groans for our freedom and participation in its bounty.  So, if it should seem that your life is ever in the toil it, be mindful as the Tao plunges, bypassing technological fixes and vexations, your dammed dreams may very well be unplugged.

POEM: Getting It Together

I see tragedy in the world
Not as the enemy
To be retreated from
Nor as an accident
Captivating my perverse stares
Rather a musing
These puzzling pieces
Of my heart
Shuttered into a million pieces
In chanting invitations
Entranced overtures
Moving beyond words
As a gait way
To the presents
Of an unbroken whole

This is yet another poem about hope, a familiar theme of mine.  With all of the tragedy in the world, it can be difficult to have a light heart.  I often muse that I have to laugh to keep from crying.  This seems to me to be a basic choice of perspective to bring to life.  How should I orient my attitude in life?  Staring at tragedy can become a perverse rubber-necking, like seeing a wreck that you can’t seem to take your eyes off.  My personality is built in such a way that I easily see the falling short of any given situation compared to some more perfect ideal, or even the being aware of multiple perspectives or choices that are equally inane, in some banal equivalency.  The former is a perspective of idealism.  The latter tempts infinite forms of nihilism, all leading the same place: nowhere.  Perhaps needless to say, I identify much more strongly with idealism.  I deal with -isms all the time!  For me, the decisive factor in choosing between idealism and nihilism is a devotion to a positive outlook.  Great minds have pondered the tally between good and evil, and it seems that it may be a close call.  Some try to escape the question by believing that it doesn’t matter, that it’s all the same.  Of course, it does matter what we believe.  Some times believing is seeing.  I’m betting my life that good is stronger than evil, or simply that I am going to try really hard to be on the side of good.  I see a major developmental task in life as sorting out my relationship with the One, which some may call God, perhaps Tao, or even hope.  This always takes place in context of the myriad of things, the many, the stuff of our everyday life.  This poem alludes to our hearts being shattered and shuttered into a million pieces.  The poem ends with the epic allure of an unbroken whole, or perhaps, within human capabilities, healing and reconciliation of broken and estranged people.  The transition, the path, the opening between, mere musings and such a desired positive state, is filled with invitations/overtures, most of which will go unanswered/unfulfilled, and movement beyond words to action.  This requires taking the lead.  This requires inviting people to be better when being worse seems much more plausible or practical.  This requires my own volition of acting better when being worse seems much more plausible or practical.  My best, most simple definition of leadership is this: bringing out the best in others.  I have hope because it brings the best out in me.  May our highest hopes incarnate hope for one another.  Make it so…

POEM: Treatment…Like…Sewage

Treatment…Like…Sewage

I lived in Libertarianville
They said
“If you want sewage treatment,
Just go to some place that has it.”
So I did
Many don’t live there long

I find discussing politics with self-professed Libertarians a vexing experience.  Typically, we cannot converse for more than a few minutes before getting to some brutal logical endpoint, where I am requested to trump my heart with some rudimentary portion of a brain.  To the most fanatical, there is a “let them die” conclusion, met with way-to-comfortable stoicism.  To the less fanatical, it is usually some corollary of this, masquerading more humanely.

In this short poem, I take sewage treatment as an example of a common good escaping the grasp of Libertarians.  And dealing with sewage and the slippery slopes of shitty logic can be perilous.  I draw this example from my training and experience in public health.  The control of communicable diseases is the greatest public health accomplishment in the last century of humankind.  Only human unkind would create a political philosophy and practice that would wholesale-endanger such life-promoting accomplishments with a proverbial flush down the toilet of ideology.  This poem mocks the ridiculous notion that complex common goods can be manufactured and marketed like widgets in some free market. After all, few can afford the free market!  After the Libertarians’ wet dream, the remaining reality would not have such complex common goods even available for one to exercise their precious choice regarding.  The tough choices and hard-fought gains from balancing individual liberty with the common good, in my judgment, would leave us with a world where there is much less freedom, fewer choices, and a less robust life.  Choosing one particular thing over another particular thing, when done wisely, while destroying the possibility of the previous choice, thereby “limiting” our freedom, creates new realities with better choices, a more robust freedom.  Libertarians sometimes strike me as emotionally stunted, almost infantile, in their inability to sacrifice a present freedom to build a greater future.  Perhaps ironically, Libertarianism may actually manifest itself as some form of attachment disorder.

My typical experience of so-called Libertarianism strikes me as some dangerous addiction to some notion of absolute human freedom that routinely erodes every other value doomed to its presence, including public health. Now, I am not saying that Libertarians are necessarily stupid or do not hold values deeply.  I am saying that a steely brain is no substitute for wholehearted living, and Libertarianism seems to run freely, if not roughshod, over a myriad of insights and the wisdom of the heart, as well as everyday experience (such as the benefits of public health).  I am saying that Libertarians routinely hamstring all other values in favor of leaving all options open in the far-flung field of dreams called absolute human freedom.

I see the absolute part of the equation, the fundamental ideology or worldview, as corrosive, ironically, to any good fruits of good choices that freedom allows.  That said, Libertarians have it right, very right, that freedom is foundational, a first-order good, the fount of will.  The trouble necessarily follows when any freedom, or all freedom, must level anything built on that foundation, for lack of any ascendant, successfully competing, value.  Allowing any other value to rise either above or equally with freedom is necessarily a threat to the sacrosanct value of freedom.  The ultimate irony is that by not allowing any other value as great or greater than freedom, Libertarianism routinely finds itself standing dumb, unable to speak with authority, in a disabling self-censorship, for fear of undercutting its worship of freedom.  I find this worship of freedom idolatrous.  Libertarianism is the opposite of Authoritarianism.  In this sense, Libertarianism must fight any authority, refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, its own.  This may be the best definition of idolatry.  Perhaps somewhat mysteriously, this reveals an even deeper irony: Libertarianism and Authoritarianism share this truth of refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, their own.  As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.”  A common sentiment among Libertarians and Anarchists is “question authority.”  I find much resonance with this sentiment.  Of course, this implied imperative raises the deeply ironic question, “By what authority do you question authority?”  A recursive reality oft leading to cycles of swearing. Some would seemingly put this to rest by claiming “I question all authority!”  Yet, in the shadow persists another question: Is questioning authority equivalent to not questioning authority?  Some would answer no, resigning any discernment in a moral flatland. Still, some would retort that the discernment lies in the questioning: the important thing is to question everything, including oneself.  I would agree.  Nonetheless, the rabbit hole goes still deeper in at least two additional tiers.  First, questioning everything implies an absolute skepticism, or, put perhaps even more provocatively, a faith in skepticism.  Second, questioning everything, including oneself implies tentativeness at the heart of reality.  The Buddhists would call this the doctrine of impermanence, that everything arises and falls in relationship to everything else, or “impermanence is an undeniable and inescapable fact of human existence from which nothing that belongs to this earth is ever free.”  The Buddhist concept of impermanence is closely related to the concept of tentativeness or momentariness.  The Buddhist worldview is anathema to rigid ideology or fundamentalism of any unkind.  Amidst the flux of impermanence and the state of momentariness, arises the experience of compassion.  Rather than dissolving or devolving into nihilism and inescapable confusion, Buddhists have found that the experience of compassion is at the heart of reality, knitting together lives worth living.  I would love to infuse a healthy dose of Buddhism into Libertarianism.  Perhaps meditating on the highest ideal of bringing compassion to all living beings would moderate the sharp edges of Libertarianism in America.

There is truth in Libertarianism, and we should not throw out the baby with the bath water.  Nevertheless, Libertarianism needs to live more fully into the heart of humanity, embodying compassion.  Such a maturation process is good for all of us and each of us, whatever our ideologies of the day might be.  There are a host of fallacies founded on mistaking a part for the whole.  The process of integrating our experiences and understanding into an ever-larger whole, strikes me as the most fundamental developmental task of humanity, a transcendent task for those who have not yet anchored their skepticism in certainty.  In this journey, may we embrace one another with compassion.

POEM: Lovers of Dirt

Lovers of Dirt

Wile in cathedrals
The atheist
Dares claim
The title
Of mass debater
As little comes
From behind the veil
That doesn’t exist
In the slightest
Hint elect
To believe
Methods to their madness
Seemingly beyond approach
However rue derangement
Identifying any genus
By its feces
So commonly specious
In its origins
By means
Naturally selective
Preserving favored races
In the struggle
For life
As fashioned
From flights of fancy
For the birds
In plain English
Triggering an evolution
Of rapacious masculinity
Vanquishing femininity
As it sees fit
Too survive
And nothing more
As awe is derived
As so much
Ground Chuck
No longer
A yin without a yang
A homme with only half a story
In tell gents design
New ways of poker
Without reason
Fueling themselves
With fantasies
Of being porn again
Any come hither looks
Reduced to contrivance
Goddesses none
Any go whither looks
Annunciating to the world
A piece of class
A coy that must be played with
Bastards and bitches all
Wed to nothing but progeny
Incesting that the best demands it
Endless reproductions
Preying for deviant genes
To a god of chance
Just for the novelty of it
Tails you win
Heads you lose
Either way
Stuck only
By wieners and losers
How fare
Abet
Between fancy pants
And the un-gaudy
Next to uncleanliness
Soully lovers of dirt
However complicated

This poem is a commentary on atheism, evolution, and gender.  Of any belief group in America, those unaffiliated with religion are the most male, 60%.  As much as religion may be a problem for women, it seems that lack of religion is even less attractive.  If reproduction is the key to human evolution, then perhaps unbelieving men should pay attention to the keyholes.  Both atheism and evolution often strike me as dominated by male pattern balledness.  Reducing human evolution to sexual reproduction strikes me as some form of porn, a way to partner sterile abstract thinking with screwing, an unproductive mating of reductionistic thought and base sexual impulses.

I find the conundrums of atheism well captured in this poem’s title: Lovers of Dirt.  Atheism may be the most poorly equipped belief, or disbelief, system to deal with love.  Perhaps because God is love.  For whatever reason, atheists cannot bring themselves to believe in God, fortunately, I have met many who quest for love.  This poem is partly inspired by a conversation I had with a fellow protester outside the Toledo federal courthouse, when we were protesting corporate personhood, as promoted and reinforced by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United.  This man was clearly offended by considering corporations on the same level as humans, and willing to hit the street to make that point.  In the course of our conversation, it became clear that he was an atheist.  He could clearly tell the difference between the legal fiction of corporate personhood and actual human personhood.  However, he could not articulate the difference between people and dirt.  A parently, people are simply complicated dirt. This claim to be able to make higher level distinctions while being unable to make lower level distinctions seems to strike at the ultimate heartlessness of atheism.

Maybe there are other forms of atheism, but I have found this creep of distinctionless infecting virtually every atheist with which I have ever had a conversation.  Now don’t get me wrong, while I don’t believe in atheism, I do believe in atheists, certainly inasmuch as they embody love.  Plus, I am a big fan of distinctionlessness.  However, I view distinctionlessness as a spiritual aspect of reality, by definition outside the realm of science which only deals with distinctions.  Distinctionlessness might be cited as unity consciousness, the oneness of all reality (which includes consciousness).  Now, to give props to John Paul Sartre, the great atheist existentialist, and author of Being and Nothingness, he might consider distinctionlessness to be represented by nothing.  Sartre dealt in-depth trying to explain the structure of consciousness which necessitated a relationship with nothingness, a perilous journey where we are reduced to alternating between subject and object.  I am a subject and you are an object of my subjectivity.  Then, you are a subject and I am an object of your subjectivity.  And never the twain shall meet. Ad inifinitum!  Perhaps not surprisingly, Sartre was famous for saying, “Hell is other people.” (see No Exit, a one-act play). According to Sartre, other people, in the experience of subjectivity, must reduce others to objects.  Sartre believed that there can only be NO connection between subjects, no underlying unity.  I am at a loss how Sartre can even claim that other subjects exist, if he can only experience them as objects!?  Of course, this self-contradictory assertion is the basis for his atheism.  In this case, God would be Subject with a capital S.  The logic goes like this: if God existed, we would experience God as an object, and since there is no convincing evidence that such an object exists, then God does not exist.  Of course, this same logic, applied to other humans, would necessitate concluding that other people (if you can call them that) don’t exist as subjects.  These are the foolish places that highly rational and completely unreasonable men end up.  Except Sartre was not a fool.  He acknowledged that other subjects existed — only that these subjects existed outside his experience!  He could only experience their objectively ghostly apparitions masquerading as subjects, and occasional buyers of his books.  By beginning with an assumption of nothingness, he ends up with much, much, much, much, much less than if he had begun with an assumption of somethingness.  Both are assumptions, mere propositions or assertions.

Descartes launched modern Western philosophy off with “I think therefore I am,” taking existence as evidence against nonexistent.  Simple but compelling.  Sartre breaks this tradition in a striking way, he appears compelled by nothingness, nonexistence, perhaps quite appropriately, for no apparent reason.  By Sarte’s same logic and assumptions critiquing God’s Subjective existence, Sartre could just as easily made a profoundly good theist had he only explored the logical sequence of knowledge unveiled by allowing that just another subject may exist, another Subject may exist.  This seems a great leap of faith to some.  How could you equate little old me, a subject with a lowercase s, on the same par as God, a Subject with a capital S?!  Yet, this is exactly what Sartre did with his chosen path.  By Sartre’s own logic and apparent experience, he is the only subject that exists!  If there is only one subject, then this is the closest to God one can expect.  Sartre had no basis for distinguishing between a subject with a lowercase s and a Subject with an uppercase S.  Sartre was God!  And God is dead!!  Case closed — and it was a very cold case!  This should come as little surprise, that God was so little.  When being must have a relationship with nothing in order to generate consciousness, subjectivity is necessarily imprisoned: condemned to be free; with nothing to ground its being.  Now, to be fair, Sartre has nothing to stand upon.  By claiming that it was the relationship to nothing that generated consciousness, the breath of subjectivity, he allowed other subjects to exist (spookily as God allows).  All you have to do is believe in nothing.  How hard could that be?  Except that the other ethereal pillar holding up Sartre’s world is that nothing can be the ground of our being.  So, our being comes from nothingness.  Is this magic less objectionable than our being coming from somethingness?  I would agree that God is a no thing, in that the fullness of God, what God IS, cannot be ascertained from studying objective things, anymore than the fullness of human subjects can be understood by simply studying their junk.

In my book, Sartre should have devoted his keen intellect to a masterpiece call Being and Somethingness. In studying Sartre’s Being and Nothingness in my college existentialism class, what I most keenly remember is a footnote, and perhaps the only ultimate foothold in my book.  This footnote stated that his arguments did not preclude the possibility of hope, but that his purpose was not to explore that possibility.  This existential choice on his part left his work despairing.  John Paul Sartre was intellectually clever and outside of his formal philosophy, in real life, fought to be compassionate to others, though chronically despairing and doubting that he could ever really connect with them as fully human.  Perhaps Sartre’s greatest distinction is how well his worldview resonated with those cynical enough to be satisfied with studying the nooks, crannies, and shadows of this deeply pessimistic, foundationless-yet-sold-as-foundational worldview.  He created a lifetime of available preoccupation in his self-proclaimed hell.  And if there truly is no exit from this deadly state of affairs, aspiring to screw some less cruelly than others; then, being right will have to serve as a poor substitute for happiness.  Religion will be reduced to self-fulfilling prophets.  Humanity will never graduate from preoccupation to the much harder vocation of bringing hope to an obviously hurting world.  Hope requires the study of human nature, of which Sartre is so absolutely skeptical, even of its existence.  Such absolute skepticism begs for a different perspective, in that it worships subjectivity, our apparent ability to will one thing over another, either assenting to or rejecting preconditions.  Sartre aspired to build the slimmest possible precipice from which to perch looming subjectivity, a philosophy with as few assumptions as possible, resting on as narrow an objectivity as possible.  But rather than finding a holy grail, he found himself, and apparently the whole world, on a throne of spears. This creates perhaps the largest overreach possible in underestimating both objective reality and subjective reality.  Unity consciousness is the oneness of all reality, which includes consciousness.  Sartre’s arena was human consciousness, and declining to leave that arena, shortchanged the fullness of reality.  His reality lifts human consciousness beyond its ken.  Though he was perhaps within grasp of an occasional barbie — no offense to Simone de Beauvoir, his lifelong lover, to whom one day while they were sitting on a bench outside the Louvre, said, “Let’s sign a two-year lease.”  They never married.  Near the end of her life, de Beauvoir said, “Marriage was impossible. I had no dowry.”  In fact, there was no dowry that could cover the deficit in Sartre’s worldview.  Sartre’s reality became, through his own volition, human consciousness married to nothing, and no divorce laws.  His denial is nearly unfathomable.  His consciousness only unifies with reality in some zombie apocalypse fashion — which seems enduringly fashionable for some reason.  Sartre strips objective reality of any subjectivity but his own, except for those ghostly apparitions (that would be you) who are condemned to walk the earth, a living hell, negating his subjectivity with a moments notice.  His justice: he returns the favor, jousting with lifelike windmills.  This farcical, impossible dream, leaves Sartre riding his knight mare in a one horse town.  His reward: he is the grand marshal and sole entrant in this ludicrous parade.  Though quite miraculously, Sartre ends up joining an elite pantheon of self-fulfilling prophets of epic disproportions.

I can see how many people are deeply reluctant to believe in God.  What I find much more difficult to understand is people’s deep commitment to disallowing for even the possibility of God. In other words, agnosticism seems justified (though a bit indecisive), whereas atheists must take on a mantle of hubris unbecoming to open minds and open hearts.  Sartre proclaims that there is no exit in a house that he built with no doors!  In the end, using Sartre’s arguments against God, the Subject with a capital S, one must argue against subjectivity itself, all subjectivity.  It is to this that I object!  Sartre built an inhospitable house, a testament to his objectivity (or testament to his lack of subjectivity), and he has nothing to blame.  By leveling subjectivity, he finds, least of all, himself.  Not by humility, but by hubris.  And from nowhere comes a call, “Philosopher heal thyself!”  Yet, the great metaphysician, Jesus also begged the question of the physician healing thyself.  Jesus is recounted to have said in Luke 4:18-28 (NIV), in launching his public ministry, by quoting the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.  Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”  “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.  I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed — only Naaman the Syrian.”  All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.

People are lazy enough to want miracles.  Some just want to be entertained enough to provide a break in their existential ennui.  A rarer few are happy being unhappy.  Jesus’ hometown crowd called for him to reproduce for them the miraculous events that they had heard transpired elsewhere.  Surely he would put on an even better show for the hometown crowd, they thought.  When Jesus implied that his prophetic acts would not get any traction amongst this hometown crowd, accurately citing history, the crowd got pissed.  They bypassed the good news and didn’t even get a good carny show out of it!

Interestingly, the crowd was incredulous even when the heard good news — “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” — asking “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  You remember, that snot-nosed kid who used to run around here some years back.  And we all know about Joseph, don’t we?  They just couldn’t believe that such good news and authority could be present in one from such humble and ordinary beginnings.  Jesus made it clear that enlightenment or salvation cannot just be handed to someone like an everyday object, miraculous relic, or even apprehended through the world’s best philosophy.  In Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus, where the condemned rich man upon his death and agony wants a heavenly message sent to his sons on earth, so that they might be saved, he is told: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:21)  The good news that Jesus proclaimed was to the poor, not the “successful” in society who have mastered the conventional wisdom.  Jesus proclaimed that freedom for the prisoners is possible, and that recovery of sight for the blind is possible, that setting the oppressed free is possible.  The miraculous is not concerned with overturning the impossible, but with the possible not yet manifest.  This is the realm of faith and hope.  This is the realm that Jesus calls us into.  Some hear this and are deeply moved.  Some hear this as a carnival barker.  Some more recalcitrant few hear this as a carnival barker who never even existed!  There are few problems that denial won’t solve, eh?

I think that Sartre’s cynicism ultimately lies in this fact that you can’t force people to be enlightened.  Jesus understood this.  Sartre knew that our choices literally create meaning by placing value behind some actions and not others, all within the realm of the possible.  Jesus understood this.  Unfortunately, Sartre neutered himself when it came to the realm of the possible, the worst form of self emasculation, with militant atheism — which ironically seems much more popular among men.  The attraction to overt force and militancy seems more hegemonic among men.  Though please note that I don’t think that spirituality is better suited or more fully manifest according to gender.  Nonetheless, I do think that there are specific forms of foolishness that are predominantly occupied by men.  The same goes for women; but that’s another story…

I commend Sartre for trying to tackle the immeasurable perplexity of the relationship of objectivity and subjectivity.  Such a task should vex even the greatest minds, of which I consider Sartre among.

Atheists typically claim to be concerned solely with science.  Fair enough.  Science is about understanding and manipulating the outside “objective” world, the visible, measurable world which makes the world more conducive to usefulness, or better means to some end. Spirituality is about understanding and experiencing the subjective world, the oft invisible, oft immeasurable, typically elusive world conducive to elucidating what are good ends and worthy states of being.  What unkind of world could we possibly expect if we studied only the ways to get places but refused to ponder the full range of places or states of being which are better to move toward?

The study of subjectivity includes understanding ourselves, others, and at least offering a shot at discovering or understanding God, if such a present manifests at any time.  The legitimate existence of metaphysics, the area of study beyond the physical world measurable by reductionistic science, surprisingly to some, is not really controversial amongst professional philosophers.  Of course, in the ever-changing, heated climate of rampant spirituality, there are always some climate change deniers in the crowd.  In the end, reducing the transcendent or spiritual nature of subjective existence to mere objectivity — i.e., humans are complicated dirt, nothing more — is amputating half of one’s existence, and the only half that can ascertain which is the “better” half (which is the one that can make us whole).

To advance metaphysics we must ponder other subjects – you, me, and even God.  Harkening back to the discussion of distinctionlessness, atheists with which I have conversed, seem to be pulled back to distinctionlessness.  I would like to draw a distinction between two forms of distinctionlessness.  There is the ground zero of distinctionlessness that atheists default to, apparently in the face of nothingness, the abyss.  This casts a pall over any ability to discern good from evil, or to carve out any solid ground for our subjective being, even going so far as to doubt whether others or oneself even exist (as a subject), let alone whether God exists!  I contrast this with unity consciousness which is present in the oneness of all reality, which happens to encompass consciousness.  I think that this distinctionlessness of unity consciousness is a fuller representation of reality than the atheist existentialism a la Sartre.  Oneness can only be present with consciousness because if consciousness was not encompassed, then consciousness would be separate, and there would be two disconnected realities, not one.  If these two disconnected realities seem familiar, it might be because they are eerily parallel to Sartre’s alienating description of alternating subject-object, object-subject relationships between so-called subjects — more like objects masquerading as subjects.  Sartre cleverly avoids the problem of two separate realities by defining nothingness as one of the two disconnected realities.  Many people might be willing to agree that nothing is not separate from our one reality, which seems somewhat different than saying nothing is separate from our one reality.  This clever configuration jury-rigs the vexing question of something coming from nothing.  Recall that Sartre views consciousness, a necessary aspect of subjectiveness, as arising from nothingness.  Or put somewhat differently, subjects are dependent on nothing. So which makes more sense: subjects are dependent on nothing OR subjects are dependent on something?  If subjects are dependent on nothing, then they should have no constrains on their freedom.  Deeply ironic, if Sartre is correct that a subject is dependent on nothing, then he has accurately described God!  Further, he has described a monotheistic God, because there could not be two absolutely free God’s operating in the same reality without clashing and limiting each other’s freedom.  Back to human-scale experience, I don’t think that any sane person would claim that their freedom is dependent on nothing.  Clearly, any coherent account of human experience testifies that human freedom is bounded, dependent on something.  If subjects are dependent on something, then an accurate account of reality must include a description of Being and Something, not simply Being and Nothingness.  Of course, existentialist thinkers following Sartre claimed that subjects could actually meet, dare I say, without distinction.  So, the limitations on our freedoms could arise from other subjects (as well as from objects).

But could Sartre be correct?  Yes, if you expect to learn the full truth from an incomplete truth that is factually accurate.  No, if you consider half a picture the full picture.  I think that Sartre is a freaking genius, and that his facts are correct.  Of course, I take some of this on faith, since he was wicked smart, perhaps too smart for his own good!  After all my critical analysis and occasional mocking, I will say that Sartre had all his facts right, he just didn’t have all the facts, or the full truth.

Like I enjoy saying, “Truth lies in the neighborhood of paradox.”  There is a persistently perplexing dualism present in human contemplations of reality.  I think that Sartre nailed down half of this dualism.  On one hand, the nailing down of hard facts was old-school, meaning it was completely consistent with the 400-plus year tradition of the enlightenment and the chain of progress that is Western civilization (as distinct from the contributions of the ancients).  On the other hand, his intellectual work was cutting edge and timely, even before its time.  Seriously, he was working with NOTHING!  This anchored the accomplishments of the enlightenment in a new way.  Of course, for those ultimately not happy with his militant focus, it could be viewed as the last nail in the coffin that is postmodernism. I think that the answer illuminating the full truth involves pursuing both-and answers rather than only either-or answers.  In this light, I would slightly restate an earlier proposition: I don’t think that any sane person would claim that their freedom is ONLY dependent on nothing.  Sartre was ahead of his time, and prescient of modern quantum physics, which has shed light on nothingness.  In quantum physics, particles arise out of nothing, seemingly independent, though subject to probabilistic behavior when viewed as waves.  And the best answer we have about which state of affairs is true is: both.  Subatomic physical behavior is best described as both waves and particles.  This answer, which is as perplexing as the original question, rests on the fact that it depends on how you look at it.  Literally, observing something changes it.  Conscious awareness affects reality in predictable ways (that is, probabilistic).  Translating this into our larger discussion, the freedom present in human consciousness arises from BOTH nothing AND something.  Possibilities collapse into specific actualities based on our observation and intent.

To be fair to Sartre, I’d like to think that had he lived much longer (he died in 1980), he may have been able to incorporate some insights from modern physics into his worldview.  However, the wisdom of the ancients was available to him.  As Jesus pointed out, witnessing miracles won’t necessarily make someone a better, more whole human being.  The power of skepticism and cynicism is strong.

Sartre was correct: Hell is other people.  But, Sartre was only half correct, for: Heaven is other people.  If you can relax your skepticism and cynicism enough, you may just find that others are both your curse AND salvation, which is way better than being mirrorly a curse.  Jesus was a teacher of all subjects.  When Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)  Attention all self-fulfilling prophets: seek and you shall find — but, if at first you don’t find, keep seeking…many subjects await you…and perhaps only one…

POEM: Farcical Optimism

He said to me
“Your optimism is farcical.”
I said
“You may be right.”
Of course
Wisdom may just be
Realizing that
Farcical optimism
Is ever so slightly preferable
To farcical pessimism

If you gathered all of the information together to make a determination of whether or not it is justified to be an optimist, it may very well be a close call.  There is plenty in this world to be pessimistic about.  The more edgy, less centered pessimists may even consider all a farce.  If this seemingly even-matching of evidence to justify optimism or pessimism, throws you off-balance, then consider balance.  Just because Pollyannishness exists does not negate optimism or hope.  Just as because nihilistic thoughts and behavior exists doesn’t mean that all is lost.  Walking this seemingly fine line between optimism and pessimism sets up one’s own basic attitude about life: which side of reality do you want to face, live into?  While the line may be fine, this most fundamental existential choice of attitude, direction, is the profound difference between good and evil.  This is how freedom plows meaning into reality and how our spirits are incarnate into the world.  Some with nihilistic orientations would prefer less meaning full terms — good and bad, useful and not useful, painful and pleasurable.  I find a deep irony in folks who are too nihilistic to even drum up a belief in evil!  This is what I would call farcical pessimism.  Unfortunately, you can’t escape this existential choice, conundrum if you will, by not answering the question.  Amorality falls solidly into the immoral category.  Amorality amounts to bad faith.  If you don’t like free will, maybe you don’t deserve to wield it.  If you don’t think that the world is about deserving and undeserving, then welcome to the world of grace…

POEM: Incompetent Evil

I don’t care much for evil
I don’t care much for incompetence
Though when present together
Incompetence becomes a blessing

As in math, sometimes in morality, multiplying two negatives can produce some positive results.  There is at times some hope to be taken at the all too frequent observation that many stupid things happen in the world.  Specifically, there is hope to be drawn from evil actions accompanied by incompetence.  In this case, incompetence is an ally of the good, truncating evil, preventing it from manifesting its complete intent.  If you are an optimist such as I, you might even dare call this a blessing.

I like this short poem mostly because it illuminates perhaps the most fundamental division in human reality — physics and metaphysics, the mundane and the transcendent.  Physics is basically the realm of modern science, the sometimes uber-successful reductionistic approach characteristic of Western civilization.  Great advances have been made in understanding how the physical world works, the means of controlling the “outer” world, the so-called objectively real.  Modern science breaks things down to understand each of its constituent parts behaves (cause and effect) and how they interact with one another. Unfortunately, this is only the crudest form of how things work, and only “half” of the picture (in the sense of balance, not quantitatively).  At its worst scientific reductionism kills the whole to study the dead parts.  Dissecting a frog may produce a lot of knowledge but it does kill the frog.  Similarly, our quest for knowledge can kill life to study its lesser constituent parts.  Metaphysics is the opposite, the complement to reductionism, which studies life from the perspective of the relationship of the whole to the part, not the relationship of parts to each other.  Most people recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts — due to humans’ metaphysical faculties.  Sadly, an overfocus on scientific reductionism has allowed our higher faculties to atrophy (use it or lose it!), and we literally cannot tell apart life from death.  My favorite example of the manifestation of this is our apparent inability to distinguish between human persons and corporate persons (which are famously said to be made up of human persons — well they got the “made up” part correct!).  When we can’t differentiate a human worker from a brick — reducing them both to “expenses” — we are in deep trouble as a human race!  We seem to be able to produce a lot of things, and cool stuff, but the art of human happiness seems resistant to such machinations — perhaps because we are not machines.  We need to strike a healthier, life-affirming balance between physics and metaphysics.  As often happens, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has said much of this much more succinctly:

“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values.  The two are not rivals. They are complementary.  Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.”

POEM: Lifting Fog

Lifting Fog

You can’t fight city hall
They are too big to fail
We are too small to make a difference
A mere drop in a vast sea
These lies can travel through vast deserts of grief and despair
Like a camel
Which has swallowed an ocean
Thinking it is a god
Only to apprehend itself
As a criminal
Who got the drop on itself
Buried in a straw world
Never knowing
The last from the first
Nor all in
Its mist
The back-breaking work
Of fog lifting

Working for truth and justice requires a large, perhaps even transcendent, perspective.  I see patience as the mother of all virtues.  The good fight takes patience and persistence to hold us over during the sometimes barren spaces between positive visible outcomes commensurate with our efforts.  Plus, much of our work must necessarily be carried on by others beyond our own lifetimes.  First, the seeming invincibility of the powers that be can be daunting.  Second, the seeming small power that any given individual has is humbling.  Together, they seduce many into despair and even slip many into amorality or nihilism.  Who is asking us to swallow oceans?  What honest worldview would require that we get to walk around dropping “the last straw” on the proverbial camel’s back of injustice any more frequently than we find that proverbial needle in the haystack (of straws)?  Perennial philosophies include some concept of illusion or deceptive aspect of reality that must be overcome in order to apprehend truth — the “fog”.  I think that a common mistake is assuming that we must move mountains or build some Tower of Babel to heaven.  I think this mistaken assumption is part of the “fog”.  The final twist in this poem is juxtaposing “back-breaking work” with “fog lifting”.   This is not a slam on hard work, but rather the notion that (ever-increasing) physical labors are our salvation — if only we worked just a little harder!  The spiritual project of “lifting fog” better represents the ethereal project of living out our humanity to its fullest.

Further, a great example of completely misunderstanding a sacred text is in Matthew 17:20 where Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you”  The standard, and completely wrong usage of this passage is that if you just believe enough that God will come and instantly move a mountain for you.  In fact, it means the opposite. First, some context:

Herod the Great is best known for his attempt to assassinate the newborn Messiah, and while it was true he was brutal and paranoid, he was also a genius builder. He was responsible for an astounding man-made harbor at Caesarea Maritima, the mind-boggling desert fortress of Masada, and the magnificent Temple mount. Around 37 BC, his sights turned to the desert for a building site once again. He wanted to build a fortress palace there that could be seen from Jerusalem and the surrounding areas so that the Jews never forgot he was always watching. He also wanted to be sure it was the absolutely tallest thing in the surrounding landscape. So, he narrowed his building site down to two hills (small mountains) which were near each other.

Then, he simply used forced labor to pare the top off one to add to the top of the other to make it bigger. One pail full of dirt and rocks at a time. He literally moved a mountain.

And a little more context:

As clever as Herod was, he was perhaps known more for his wickedness. He maintained his authority by terrorizing his subjects. He grew increasingly paranoid and throughout his life he had thousands of people executed — including his wife, his son, and many family members. He killed everyone who might be a threat to his reign. This he tried to do as well to baby Jesus.

From the shepherds of Bethlehem to the priests in Jerusalem, all would have been reminded of the presence of Herod every time they saw the volcano-like hill in the distance, or any time they encountered one of his many buildings. But what would they have been thinking? Would they have admired his ingenuity and achievements or would they have despised him and feared for their lives?

It would not be far fetched to imagine that Jesus was looking toward the Herodium when he said:

I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. Matthew 17:20

In this inspiring statement, Jesus was pointing out that it doesn’t take the abuse of thousands of workers to do what man might think is impossible. If they couldn’t see the Herodium, his listeners would have known about Herod’s moving of the mountain. He had done the “impossible” through fear, cruelty, punishment, and death; but Jesus was saying, “If you will only follow the Father, if you have even the smallest grain of faith in me, nothing will be impossible.”

The lesson we should learn from all this is that the Lord is not impressed by what we might accomplish — he is only interested in our hearts. We can also be sure that Herod, and all those like him, will one day learn that the wise men had it right.

Of course, moving mountains, or any grand project, regardless of the purpose behind it, takes a lot of time, and thousands of people moving persistently “one bucket at a time.”  Patience my friends…

Anarchism: Cooperation, Decentralization, Social Cohesion

David Morris writes in On the Commons, regarding the anniversary of the death of the Russian Peter  Kropotkin, an article: Anarchism Is Not What You Think It Is — And There’s a Whole Lot We Can Learn from It:  The word anarchism has been so stripped of substance that it has come to be equated with chaos and nihilism. That’s not what it means:

I am astonished Hollywood has yet to discover Kropotkin. For his life is the stuff of great movies.  Born to privilege he spent his life fighting poverty and injustice.  A lifelong revolutionary, he was also a world-renowned geographer and zoologist.  Indeed, the intersection of politics and science characterized much of his life.

His struggles against tyranny resulted in years in Russian and French jails.  The first time he was imprisoned in Russia an outcry by many of the world’s best-known scholars led to his release.  The second time he engineered a spectacular escape and fled the country.  At the end of his life, back in his native Russia, he enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the Tsar but equally strongly condemned Lenin’s increasingly authoritarian and violent methods.      

In the 1920s Roger N. Baldwin summed up Kropotkin this way.

“Kropotkin is referred to by scores of people who knew him in all walks of life as “the noblest man” they ever knew. Oscar Wilde called him one of the two really happy men he had ever met…In the anarchist movement he was held in the deepest affection by thousands–“notre Pierre” the French workers called him. Never assuming position of leadership, he nevertheless led by the moral force of his personality and the breadth of his intellect. He combined in extraordinary measure high qualities of character with a fine mind and passionate social feeling. His life made a deep impression on a great range of classes–the whole scientific world, the Russian revolutionary movement, the radical movements of all schools, and in the literary world which cared little or nothing for science or revolution.” 

Kropotkin took on the social Darwinists of the day.  As a leading scientist, he countered the often accepted notion that competition is the primary driving force in nature and natural selection.  We need spokesmen like this today as the social Darwinists of our day tear at the fabric of society with the destructive notions that inequality and concentrations of wealth are somehow ordained or inevitable.  Kropotkin enlightened those of his day on the advantages of cooperation, decentralization, and social cohesion.  The evidence from his scientific study showed that these factors drove natural selection.  Furthermore, these factors actually enhance not degrade what most people would accept as behaving humanely.  Darwinism is one of the nominally understood religions of our day.  Unfortunately, Darwin’s groundbreaking work has been co-opted, ironically, by statist forces, who have little interest in the elevation or evolution of humanity.

David Morris’ article is a clarion call for all to learn more or revisit what anarchism means.  Anarchism is not about chaos.  Anarchism is about order, a humane order. Kropotkin was a leading advocate of how we must relate to one another in order to achieve a humane order.  I’ll give my proverbial vote to this leaderless leader!

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