A Citizen Soldier Stands Against the President

Is it time to take to the bunker yet? I do not think so.  Though, things are getting quite scary.  As a soldier and a citizen and a Christian, the President of the United States of America is an enemy of the people.  Not the press, not the Democrats, and not the Muslims of the world.  The President daily signs death warrants for soldiers he does not care a scrap for nor gives more than an afterthought over dinner.  The President has chosen his own power and prestige over truth and the good of the American people.  And it is our own President who incites violence (in violation of his own claimed faith) at home and around the world against Muslims, compared to the uncountable hundreds of thousands of Muslims who have taken up arms in our defense in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world… not to mention here at home in the USA.

As someone who risked his life daily for the American people, I resent the fact that the President has portrayed the US institutions of truth, science and the press, as enemies of the people, institutions without virtually any monetary reward and little notoriety who do their virtuous work in silence.  I deplore the fact that the President has deliberately undermined the Department of Justice and the FBI, organizations which have worked for decades and for over a century to work against the current of politics and protect every American’s rights.  And finally, I despise our President for putting his own politics above the integrity of our electoral system.  There is overwhelming evidence that members of his advisory team and cabinet were beholden to the Russians, and President Trump can do nothing but refuse to talk about the matter or lie.  He would rather repeat a lie than dig up the truth, a play fit only for the Mein Kampf.

Maybe I am exaggerating our situation, but I do not think I am.  There is not anywhere left for the Republican regime left to run except to crime.  This is not an evenly divided system between right and left.  The right has clearly gone off the rails.  They have their own networks of black ops that regularly and consistently distort the truth in a demonstrable and refutable manner.  They have constructed legislation behind closed doors without hearings.  If our Constitutional Republic can survive Trump’s assault intact, it will be a miracle.  We can only match this assault with an army of spirit-warriors.  Satyagraha is our weapon.  Only by peace, mercy and the truth will we find a foundation for a true government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

May our Republic survive by the way of love.  Amen.

 

A First Reading of Steven D Paulson’s “Lutheran Theology”

Right now I am working my way through Lutheran Theology (Bloomsbury, 2011) by Steven D Paulson, professor of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, MN.  As a new member of the ELCA, I find the work frightening.  (Stay tuned.  I have only just begun my work on Paulson’s book, so there is surely more to come from a project that spans so much of Christian thinking.)  Paulson is at pains to maintain the old, contorted language of a faith that sought to distinguish the value of faith and works.  The context of that distinction is all important.  Indulgences and penitential manuals and politics had corrupted the understanding (and practice) of the order of justification.  In order to restore that order, Luther and the Lutheran reformers took some bold steps to overthrow a legalistic vision of love.  This resulted in some theology that ignored the perfectly acceptable place of Christian love as the crowning theological virtue.  In fact, left on its own, Luther’s theology seemed to run contrary to James on living faith and Paul on the preeminence of love.  The Lutheran claim that faith is primary in the Christian life and that, as Paulson has it, with her restored vision, the theologian of the cross can name evil as it is, is a position that is simply dead.  “You believe God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe – and shudder.” (James 2:19)  Restored vision is not a product of faith alone, but faith working through hope and love.  The holy life of the Christian is not a product of faith, as James tells us, but of faith working through love.  All of Christian history testifies against the notion that faith alone is justifying or in any way gives rise to the good works that Paulson calls the fruits of faith.  Only by blindly holding to a worn out and discredited theological vocabulary can Paulson maintain his vision of Lutheran theology.

Luther’s stand was a necessary move for reform.  Paulson’s position is a retreat from reform into an impoverished dogmatism.  Paulson fails to grasp the points of the reformers stances and places his own idea of how a system of Lutheran theology ought to hang together above demanding a new clarity and hewing to a commitment to real love.  The ecumenical movement can save us from this horror.  Agreements between Catholics and Lutherans ought to free us from this sort of dogmatic contortionism that bastardizes language and ignores history.

The understanding that is coming out of our ecumenical work is permission enough to adopt new language… as if we needed permission.  We are Lutherans!  Founders of the Reformation!  As Christians, we Lutherans believe that God is love.  Love is fundamental to reality, not faith, truth or being.  Theology has had the pyramid of faith, hope and love on its head for too long.  (Catholic theology did it too; it just added more elements to the articles of faith.)  Faith alone is dead faith.  Understanding that we are in an era that demands a revision of our theological language to take seriously the tragedy of the cross that scars the world, that is a mission for a true Church of the Reformation.

The Self-Emptying of Death

In the midst of the process of my mother’s death, I am at a loss for what to do.  Every action I take seems hollow… except to sit with her and be near her.  Inaction is the method of The Way.  The wisdom of that insight sits well with me right now.  I don’t want to move.  I don’t want to disturb anything.  I just want to let this process finish.  When it is done, I do not know what my brother and I will become.  It seems we will remain as we are but more scarred.  We will be emptied.  That kenosis does not require my consent.  But what takes place after the emptying? More life.

Beyond the Threat of a Faithful Democracy

The idea that the United States is a nation of faith can at last be given up as a lie.  Trump represents neither faith nor works.  He has disproven any attempts to depict him as faithful to the truth.  There really can be only one non-ironic interpretation of Trump.  A power-monger plain and simple, he is willing to sell the American presidency to Vladimir Putin for pennies on the dollar, so long as Trump receives the position.

Given that it has been scientifically demonstrated that democracy tends toward suboptimal decision making, we have been begging for an end-time reckoning for some time.  American democratic politics have dragged us into a number of wars and military conflicts for which neither sound moral nor economic reasoning can be laid down.  In fact, a vast number of Americans apparently think medieval mercantilism and free market capitalism are interchangeable.  The medieval mercantilist strategy may prove beneficial for a businessman, but is clearly an inefficient, immoral and unscientific means of lifting the economy and distributing goods and services.

So how are we to confront democracy and mercantilist economics? Off the cuff, I would recommend saddling mercantilists with fines and punishments appropriate to the political system they are trying to undermine: where there is capital punishment, let them be executed; where there is leniency, let us be lenient.  (Why adopt such a rule? Because where the politics grow more harsh and conservative, the more dangerous grows the military, economic, and political weight.  The less dangerous the hold on power, the more likely power is to yield beneficial consequences.)  But these things should not be decided off the cuff.

What is clearly needed is deep, intellectual reflection on the structures of power and economics.  (Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck, if they recognized their inadequacy for such a task, would elect to sit out the debate.  Given the Dunning-Kruger effect, we will always have them with us.)  Despite a lot of crying, much of it from the more extreme left wing of literary theory and their ilk, there really is a great deal of factual knowledge on how to organize an economic system so as to benefit a great majority of the people.  And it starts with a good intellectual grounding in free market economics.  Nobel prize winners in economics such as Paul Krugman have shown us the way, to both reveal the obscene and pursue the praiseworthy.

The structures of power are more difficult to discern, as, in large part, political science is not altogether scientific.  (Nor, for that matter, is Business anything more than bad psychology.  The two disciplines go hand-in-hand.)  There is good work being done on optimizing decision making in groups that can show us the way.  And, of course, there is a solid foundation of material from economics.  How to fuse the optimization of group decision making with our economic needs as a people (that is, as a race or a nation rather than a political caste or party) may be murky, but it is not beyond imagining.

To move forward, though, requires breaking the hold of powerbrokers, and that, I am afraid, means breaking some arms.

Throw over the tables of the money changers…

Or remain cowards in your corners.

Holiness and the Real Human

The Pharisees of the gospels are stereotypes made to ease the dirty business of judgment.  The truth is more likely that when Jesus overturned the tables of the temple, Jesus was marked as a crank, seen as crossing the line of propriety if not morality, and taken as more than a little self-righteous.  We do not behave in vacuums.  Acting outside the boundaries is not recognized as an innovation, but, interpreted in light of the boundaries, is recognized as violence.  The hermeneutic by which our behavior is read is the norm of behavior.  Reformation and revolution can never be recognized outright as the need of the time.  The Pharisees will be our natural measure of holiness.

Of course, this is a difficult and dangerous lesson to learn.  It is difficult to learn because we resist change as the psychologically and sociologically conservative species that we are.  The lesson is dangerous because it makes it seem impossible that we will recognize the limits of authentic and beneficial movements for change, thus rejecting self-serving and possibly deadly calls for revolution.  There is a wariness because we cannot formulate a new law to govern behavior in the face of a truly open society.  But the Gospel call is for love, and not for law.  Paul even goes so far as to reject the legitimacy of the law after the resurrection.  (Understand that how you will.)  As Aleister Crowley wrote not so long ago, “Love is the law, love under will.”

And that is really as much guidance as there may be with regard to love, at least as far as I can see.  Reflections on love should not end.  Views may shift and mutate.  But love is the guide in my worldview…  beyond all good and evil.

Humans are relatively predictable, we act in light of pretty clear material interests even if those interests are not clear to us, when we are fortunate enough to have such settled interests.  We act out of fear of the out-group to protect interests, when we have no material interests worth mentioning, and a hundred other heuristic shortcuts lead to mistakes that govern our behavior.  War and politics are just the highest level expressions of those psychological and sociological mistakes, possibly preventable but definitely predictable.  Good and evil is molded by this evolution of moral vision.  Only love escapes the rule that says the Pharisee is the holy man, only a love that sees with the vision of the other and pours itself out.  This all but guarantees that we will see love as a violence to the domain of holiness.  May we have the courage of the vision of love.

A Holistic Approach to Miracles

My odd article “Against Santa Claus” is flawed, horrendously flawed.  I think.  (Let me never be dogmatic or unchanging in my thinking.  I have been wrong too many times, often due to staking out such immovable opinions.)  Miracles are not the drawing close of the divine to the human.  There is no God but man (or a man.  Choose your scripture.)  This seems to be as close as we get.  The holy is within the ordinary.

As I incensed my little chapel this morning, I was drawn to sit in zazen and seek the holy, which is Nothing.   As Aleister Crowley long ago pointed out, our methods are techniques made to produce specific effects.  Incense and meditation are practically guaranteed to evoke the holy.  A Pure Vision, as far as I can tell, is the Holy evoked within the ordinary.  No miracles, no siddhis.  Just a quiet gaze at the ground.

Evidence is against the miraculous.  To assert otherwise is to lie.  No one has yet brought to me a miracle, a magical power or a siddhi that can stand up to the demand for evidence.  The argument usually follows that faith demands a lack of evidence.  This seems to be a misunderstanding of faith.  Hebrews 11:1 defines Christian faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  But what sort of conviction can we have apart from evidence? What assurance do we have in a mere belief that flies in the face of all of history? At best they are irrational positions.  Hebrews doesn’t demand such foolishness.  My spiritual experience leads me to my convictions.  And my convictions lead me to my spiritual experience.  There is a virtuous circle here, indeed.  But that is not a denial of experience.  Rather, we interpret our experience.  And experience our interpretations.

Santa Claus is still a lie.  But the bigger lie is the one that teaches children to wish harder rather than to work smarter to achieve their ends.

Life is miraculous.  Don’t turn the depths of creation into a lie.

Delusions and Philosophy

Several years ago my life came apart. All my life seemed to have been building to that time, with ongoing struggles over drugs and alcohol, depression and paranoia. Somehow, though, the struggles were seen as a sort of moral failure rather than the effects of a maladaptive brain. In that moral light, the question was how I could be so weak or so cruel rather than seeing the important questions as questions of causality and health.

It is still difficult for me to look on those recurring disturbed episodes in my life as anything less than a moral failure on my part. We have been trained, after all, to categorize actions in terms of right and wrong, guilt or innocence, freedom or coercion. That moral language demands moral activity: I must assert my will and make the right choice.

The more I learn about behavior and cognition, the less my moral language appears accurate or useful. Moral language is a relic of a discredited dualistic belief system… even if that language is still alive today. Human psychology is too enmeshed in the world to speak simply of freedom. We make choices, certainly, but the many causes of any given choice are impossible to tease out in any intellectually satisfying way.

So that time of mental unravelling in my life, was it a failure on my part or the culmination of a series of biological and sociological blunders? Both, I suppose. My mental hygiene was not very sound, as is the case for so many of us who are found on the schizophrenic spectrum. I often enough sought psychological help only to reject the help offered when my paranoia drove me to believe that my doctor, for instance, was a criminal in hiding, living under a false identity. Am I to blame for how I acted when overwhelmed by such delusions? The question is unhelpful. What we really should be asking is how to prevent the episodes of paranoia, how to recognize when they are in the process of developing and how to react once a paranoid episode has taken off.

Philosophical practice cannot address a medical crisis such as a delusion in full bloom. (Anyone who says otherwise is, in my mind, an irresponsible quack.) Philosophy, if it is anything, is an attempt to make meaning or find value in the world. Such concerns are important, but hardly seem relevant to the immediate need of the woman grappling with schizoaffective disorder. Real healing grounded in our material reality is what is needed most.

What philosophical practice offers is a process of making room in my life for the delusions of the past. I can look upon paranoia as an opportunity, a way of making my soul with my own hands. But what comes first is health, not valuing or soul-making. What that really tells me is that love is the virtue of a new order, because love does not seek to force any of us to fit into an artificial moral mold. We must embrace the world as we find it, even ourselves, or we fail to live in reality.