Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Unfinished Business

We are always unfinished. Since we are finite beings, we can never be complete since only that which is Infinite is complete. But maybe Frank is finished...

I got a charge out of watching this video. It takes dharma hootspa to put yourself out there, and display your firewarts and all along the path. But is Frank really 100% complete... Enlightened, Cooked?

He certainly did have a breakthrough to the Infinite. It appears his channels are opened up and he is no longer the sole doer. He may now has aligned his will to the Will of the Absolute; however, he is still a human being.

The cross best represents us as a point on the vertical and the horizontal. We are always unfinished morally, intellectually, and aesthetically as we are often encountering changes that requires us to adapt to the circumstances. There is an awakening to the transcendent—a realization! And before and after we also awakening our minds to new ideas, we're awakening to inhabiting new ways of being with others, we're also awakening to more mature ways of building our character. But maybe this is easier if we exhaust the seeker, or maybe not.

Take Georgia.... 

She may not be awakened in the transcendent sense, but she seems to have awakened to the façade of certain ideologies she had been indoctrinated into. I myself have been on this road and it took years to see through it. It does seem this sort awakening has to go beyond the intellect. There is something deeper for us to intuit, similar to how we can also open to the transcendent, but not necessarily the same. 

How we get there can't always be determined by just the facts. I recently read a couple compelling books, here and here, as to how applied postmodernism is undermining truth in the quest to be politically correct. The authors fall into the secular classical liberalism camp and therefore focus on objective truth based on science, which is objective on one plane; however, never filling in the entire story on all planes. We have to leap beyond the information where we can find a unity of knowledge that coheres and integrates. And in order for this to occur, we need to inhabit an epistemic humility to what we don't know.

Human reason is not always transparent to itself. In fact, the point of departure where we stand on something lies buried in the unconscience or preconscious. To change that worldview, always requires an awakening or the faith to be open to reality. 

Sadly, more diverse ideas do not necessarily bestow more truth, as many clever concepts can take us further away from Truth. But there can be metaphysical complementaries to ideas; freedom and equality being one set—and each side can be distorted through libertarianism and leftism. But the tensions need to exist in their essence, as to meld all ideas to one would be its own form a totalitarian stasis. The dynamism comes in the polarities—that are not to be negated—but can be lived differently from a higher order. As to where we lean will always be a reflection of our imprint that is brought to bear in this existence.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Concentric Center



In perusing David Walsh's terrific book, you would find that he approaches the transcendent through an existential lens that is based on no particular tradition for much of the read. Until you get to one section that he titles “Christ is Center”. This is where some folks may roll their eyes, and say to themselves this has become a Trojan horse, and it's not for me. After all, “There is no stupid idea which modern man is not capable of believing, as long as he avoids believing in Christ” (Dávila).

Walsh says “the mode by which we recognize the truth of any of the revelatory traditions: their symbols resonate with and extend our own experiences. We not only confirm them, they confirm us.” We are always beginning from experience! Even Reasoning is not just information processing—it's really an existential thing. And yet “experience is only half of experience” (Goethe). If we're too closed off upon ourselves, we'll have the horizontal experience of life—without the richness that grounds and elevates it. It is only in knowing the verticality of transcendence that makes all other experience possible.

So back to the Christ is Center idea. Walsh elaborates, 
“More than a teacher and a symbol pointing toward a reality, Christ is the reality itself. This is the defense of the historical Jesus. It makes all the difference in the world to realize not only that the divine suffering of evil is the path of redemption, but the fullness of that participation of the God in the suffering of evil has historically taken place.”  
The experience of the horizontal and vertical have been consummated through a face—and our participation in that divine nature has happened in a particular time and place; and radiates over the whole of history. “As such, it is the center from which its influence extends throughout human existence from beginning to end.”

I do believe Walsh pulls from Karl Rahner here in the move from the generic experience of the sacred to the specificity of what God has disclosed to us in the form of revelation. The experience matters, but it is also disclosed as the story that completes all stories. This does not discard other spiritual traditions. “The mystery of the plurality of sources of revelation continues even when the fullness of revelation has occurred.” Christ does not depart from these sources, but only fulfills them. If there one thing that does present us with something more complete, it is nature of God coming for us as us. The flesh and blood draws us in inwardly through his presence in time and beyond time. While the “transfiguration process is complete”, there is also “the patient unfolding of its mystery over time.”

So while the Center holds it all together, there is a plurality of symbols that extends the transcendent through all cultures and individuals within history. While the explanations may be abundant in their interpretations, “there would not even be such a phenomenon if there were not first a sense of that higher reality whose attraction draws us in its pursuit.” The drama of this recognition occurs at a point in time with Jesus, and is recapitulated in its ongoing occurrence right in this moment as Christ.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Guarding Ourselves from the Mystery with Secularism

Change is happening all the time, and always against the backdrop of something changeless. That's why Truth is both revealed as always-known and recapitulated as ever-new. We understand something to be absolute and eternal, yet how that gets creatively expressed can be brought to light in many forms. There are as many ways to manifest Truth as there are people to bear it. The problem these days there are less who can handle the Truth!

So instead of surrendering to the self-mastery that Truth requires, we chase shadows of Truth that may have some partiality to it while manipulating us further from it. At best we can find merit with the impulse towards something beyond oneself. David Walsh notes that,
“each generation begins with the same faith in the goal for which it seeks and struggles to explain its inspiration to itself. The fact that none of the accounts becomes definitive does not signify failure. In each of them living contact is made with the source of the movement that underpins them. By straining toward the transcendence of reach we gain a greater sense of its reality.”
We may not know what we need, but we know somehow we're not going to come by it through what we want. We may aim for the peak experiences of everyday life as the final goal, when those were only unveiled to get us beyond our material selves. Instead, we scatter about chasing states and erecting idols who can inhabit them for us. How many human relationships have been invested with such a burden too heavy to bear? How many ideologies have been fabricated by political leaders to create the illusion of paradise on Earth as a pursuit? Since we are restricted to our material selves, we can't do anything but to institute happiness through secular goods unto ourselves and others. Despite these utopian impulses, “we are not made to attain a paradise within time.” Moreover, if we remove human weakness, are we “also removing human beings as well?” The point to what draws us deeper to the horizon of the inexhaustible mystery of transcendence was never to put our finger on it in this world, but to point us toward the goal that is beyond all finite characterizations. “If we focus too insistently on the attainment of our final fulfillment in the here-and-now, then we will distort the meaning of all lesser goods.”

As finite beings we must work within our pregiven limits or we will just fall prey to endless choices of incoherent self expression. “In every moment we remain free, although never utterly free of all direction.” The secular modern project ensures that is our right as autonomous human beings buffered from anything but our reasoning selves. We think we create our own meaning! And yet, the “illusion that we could from a superior vantage point critique all positions had proved a cruel self-deception.” And by thinking “we could see through all things we ended by no longer having anything to see.” We are free to respond to existence and the order that it is given, but we can't create existence. “Our freedom is a drama enacted between the poles of certainty and uncertainty.”  

“The more we respond to the glimmerings that at first attract us faintly, the more they become beacons of light irradiating the path before us with unanticipated intensity.” We are never completely autonomous, as grace will always impel in ways we will never fully understand. We can always reject it in defiance and to assert our autonomous will, but ironically that only will restrict our true freedom even more so.

Change will happen, but for it to be true progress (or transformation for ourselves and our loved ones), it always must happen against the backdrop of some ultimate standard. Otherwise, it is just change, but to what ends? “When there is no divine judge to measure our actions, then all restraints we choose to impose are merely arbitrary: everything is permitted. ... What enables us to judge the gap between ideal and reality is that we continue to possess the reality of the ideal.” But we can't force this ideal as gods, as that will only reduce us to less than persons. We must see through our manipulation of truth, to be available for the Truth that was available in the beginning!

As Walsh says,
“Not being gods, we can acknowledge God and receive from him the gift of participation in the divine life. Once freed from the impossible burden of providing our own meaning to ourselves, we can accept the surpassing divine outpouring of reality. By accepting the gift of transcendent life as our goal we have at the same time received the gift of meaning within this life.”
* All quotes are from David Walsh's excellent book Guarded By Mystery. I can't recommend this book highly enough!

Thursday, July 9, 2020

I Don't Trust You, And I Won't Verify Why

Science is powerful tool, but today it appears to be threatening to certain segment of society. If you have a poor narrative that you live by, and the data doesn't speak for it, then the data gets tossed out. Now for that matter, the baby gets tossed out too. After all, science was created by some privileged European dudes. So what do they know? They never suffered victimhood or belonged to disenfranchised tribe. 

So retro-elitists like Galileo, Bacon, Descartes, and Newton should have known better what wokeness would have come to light in 2020. But instead they focused on concepts like observation, skepticism, making hypotheses, and testing & experimentation. So much for these twits.

But without error correction to our ideas, we are doomed to failure. Error correction is the basis for science, as well as everything we do. We all have biases and misinformation, so being vigilant through scientific tools is necessary to break away from what we believe to be true to knowing what we don't know.  

But there is one area where the postmodernists may have a point on the shortcomings of science: once we leave the harder sciences (STEM) and move to the softer sciences (social sciences), it is harder to determine causation. We have now entered the territory of studying the human being in all his or her magnificent glory interacting within society, and when it's all said and done, it can be a cluster f--- to figure us out. 

Here we find the power of science is in isolating variables and finding one key relevant factor that changes the game. We now know that the more Trump speaks, the more people get infected with Covid. Or maybe that is just a correlative. But never mind, facts fit narrative so it must be true!

The reality is the challenges we face in society involve massive multi-variable systems. Not to mention, science has little to say of the moral, ethical or spiritual sense of what guides our inner selves. So if free will can't be isolated to a variable, then what good is it to the scientist. 

“The problem with science is that without rules that generalize from experience, we have nothing more than a catalog of data, but inductive evidence can never tell us with certainty that our generalizations are correct” (Manzi). So we gotta start with some ideas—which means you can never remove the scientist from the science. This was Polanyi's big point: all knowing is personal

And as we move from physics, to biology, to human behavior, causal density increases significantly to the point where we land on a mass of (almost) free willing persons within multi-complex systems. And at that's when the scientist is going to have to make a stand somewhere—and where some reliable tacit knowledge (through tradition and experience) is going to have to be invoked where trail and error has no place.

That's also why error correction can't stop with the science, but must be part of the process of the scientist themselves. We must always be aware of the intelligibility and coherence of the converging principles he or she is working from. Otherwise, we can be left with skewed data (flawed by omission more than commission) shoehorned into a correlated narrative that may be counter to reality.  

Still, where the postmodern woke go wrong is we will always need to trust the tools and the tooler, as long as we verify too. We need to make sure the thesis/conclusion is cohesive and non-contradictory while the person proposing it is worthy of belief in their proposal. And while science is never the end of the story, it can scaffold us closer to a higher truth. But without the tools of science all together, we can easily regress to impulsive idiots.

“When we do science, we reject the Aristotelian idea of “essence,” but when we think about what we love, essence is everything. So, we need to think strategically while remaining aware of our ignorance, and we need to exploit the power of trial and error while remaining aware of the essence of what we are trying to protect.” Jim Manzi

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Protest Thyself, Too!

“A crowd is not company, and faces are but a gallery of pictures, and talk is but a tickling cymbal, where there is no love.”  — Francis Bacon

We live in interesting times. Come on, they are always interesting. But maybe not always so crazy. What has happened to our inverted culture? Psychological projections run amok “the other.” The media has us believing there is racial brutality everywhere. Education has us believing we should self loath for perpetuating this brutality. Guilt is all abound, and the white person becomes a slave to a narrative of self-abasement. Black people are used as ponds to get approval and alleviate this pain for the white person. It does nothing for black people, and it creates a culture of victimization. It also allows the virtue-signaling white “noble sufferers” to wield power and control. The white sufferer can now be empowered to bully others for their perceived complicity. It's a viscous cycle that is divorced from data (facts) where things are not so bad in reality, but evidently pretty bad in our heads.

I have never been called to protest that much. While I may not be civic in nature, when it comes to protests it's rather I don't feel authentic in group fear mongering. It's often a collective indoctrination for those who can't think for themselves, or an outlet for those that need to project infantile emotions that can't be moderated in a silent room. 

All in all, it's mostly a misuse of energy.

Paul Tillich acknowledged we are always projecting, but he also acknowledged there is a Screen we can't project. But it seems we forgot about this: “Imagine a 10 x 10 x 10 foot room. In the center is a 1 x 1 x 1 foot cube. All the Insanity in the World is in the Cube. I am this Cube. But even more Importantly, I am the Room” (anonymous social media post).

The Screen or the Room is the focal point that shows how divided we are, not just among each other, but mostly in our own hearts. We are all complicit to Sin; however, we are never going to alleviate our transgressions until we take a good heart look at ourselves.

Thomas Merton noted, “If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate these things in yourself, not in another.” It's not just about the police, Trump, America's history, or white people. There is something deeper within the human condition: the ability to inflict harm onto ourselves and others is part of history and it has never been isolated to one group. All ethnicities, races, creeds and skin colors have “practiced” it.

All our ancestors, over thousands of years, have dealt with minority status in one form of another. Those in power have corrupted, as that is what power does when it is in the hands of the fallible human. The difference is from where we identify with this fallenness: are we the weight of history, or do we bear the weight of history? And from Whom can save us from it.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Complacent Gadflies

Our ancestors from ancient and medieval times always had a preexisting tragic view of life, and not a therapeutic view of life that people have today. And that tragic view of life assumes we are here to struggle for a finite time of existence, and therefore risk and loss are always part of life. Shit happens, and we die (and we definitely die so we'd be better to live from that context).

In recent times, we've have so much comfort made available to us to the point where many can't relate to struggle. When that happens, you're also less likely to assume any risk and more willing to transfer it to the state. We can see it with this pandemic. I'm not going to risk getting this virus (assuming I can), and the government better protect me with as much security and safety it can (or it can't...hence the looming debt crisis we are creating). This isn't austerity, but recklessness. And it doesn't make for a resilient and dynamic society in the long run.

In all this pursuit of comfort, we have fallen into an underlying restlessness. Ross Douthat discusses this from the angle of decadence. And decadence may not always look the way you'd expect. We may think that a decadent society would eventually fall into utter chaos and evil, but it seems it's more likely it would fade into whimper of cultural and economic stagnation.

Douthat notes, “A society that generates a lot of bad movies need not be decadent; a society that just makes the same movies over and over again might be. A society run by the cruel and arrogant might not be decadent; a society where even the wise and good can’t legislate might be. A poor or crime-ridden society isn’t necessarily decadent; a society that’s rich and peaceable but exhausted, depressed, and beset by flares of nihilistic violence looks closer to our definition.”

So we may not see the dystopian apocalypse played out in so many films, but something much more boring. Let's even consider this current lock-down playing out: it is painfully dull. 

This even explains all the outrage culture and tribal polarization, mostly playing out in the online world (even before the pandemic). 
“In an age online frenzy, there is an understandable fear that some kind of cultural-political cascade will carry our society downward into a similar kind of civil strife. But it may be that the nature of our decadence, our civilizational old age, makes that scenario unlikely, and that our problem is a different one: that our battles are sound and fury signifying relatively little; that even as it makes them more ferocious, the virtual realm also makes them more performative and empty; and that online rage is just a safety valve, a steam-venting technology for a society that is misgoverned, stagnant, and yet ultimately far more stable than it looks on Twitter” (Douthat).
The real issue with decadence is the inability to see our lives are more than about us. There has to be something more to live for than our own safety or comfort. If that's our primary aim (safety first!), then we lose our ability to truly be creative, resourceful, and resilient. We live in fear of losing the material things that matter least, and never aspire to the immaterial riches that matter most once we lose those material things anyways.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

UK Post-Punk Soul Sounds — 80's Style!

Time for a lighter post. When I look at my musical preferences, much of it seems a bit eclectic, but I've never been accused of being musically sophisticated or drawn to technical proficiency. I often find myself gravitating to soulful, majestic melodies and off-beat song structures that move me viscerally. I'm also guilty of a romanticized, wistful nostalgia that can verge on sentimentalism on my worst days.

The blue-eyed soul/synthpop sounds of the UK also fell into a romanticized nostalgia for the 1960's R&B soul music that originated in the states and before making its way over the pond. In the 1980's, this movement was located primarily in Northern England, and eventually made its way to other parts of the UK while taking on other influences from jazz, funk, reggae, and punk.

This refashioned post-punk soul sound in the UK had less divide between black/white music/musicians than the US at the time. Certainly many of the blue-eyed musicians took on front and center, but there were always more diverse musical lineups supporting these acts. I just want to highlight a few gems that come to mind...

The king of the mod revival in 80's (a subculture movement unto itself that had more emphasis around jazz, scooters, and 60's fashion) was Paul Weller. Certainly his work with The Jam and his solo stuff continues to inspires generations, but it was his diversion to the more soul-ridden The Style Council that caught my attention. You take a song like “Shout to the Top, and you'll find an urgent rhythm filled with gorgeous melodies and high-caliber craftsmanship. I never tire of this song, and it's always a highlight at his live performances:

I actually first heard about Orange Juice after reading Simon Reynold's Rip it Up and Start Again since they did not have much exposure in the US. Reynolds says, “Orange Juice talked and acted in ways that broke with rock's rebel swagger and postpunk's militant solemnity. They were literate, playful, witty, camp.” As I explored their music, I found myself loving Edwyn Collin's infectious voice, and the jaunty jangle guitars and choppy rhythms. Their debut single “Falling and Laughing” draws you with its unabashed romance and Collin's shy and sensitive vocals. It's so pure in it's sacred confession for love: 

More recently, I watched this short film about Dexy's Midnight Runners that explored all the incarnations of Kevin Rowland's band and various projects. I've always enjoyed their music in the early 80's, more specifically their first major hit “Geno” and the album The Celtic Soul Brothers that contained the mega-hit Come On Eileen. But I was less familiar with their follow-up commercial failure, 1985's Don't Stand Me Down. In this project, Rowland got away from his Irish vagabond look from the prior album, and decided to take on an investment banker like appearance. In the following delicious 12 minute song, This is What She's Like (and the promotional video is gorgeously shot also), there are these interesting comical dialogues that take on subjects like the ruling class, while at the same time trying to cheekily be a part of it. The song maintains this epic quality of high-energy folksy violins & mandolins and soulful vocals that has been a staple in much of his work. This is probably a forgotten classic:

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Covid Conspiracies and the New Age of Mistrust

Crisis brings out the best and worst in us, so why should this pandemic be any different. What is different these days is our relationship to trust. Because if you can't trust in God, then you certainly can't trust yourself. And then forget trusting all the other authority figures out there. And that's not the say some authority figures, like public health experts, can't be wrong. In fact, they're often wrong! But to see it through the lens of deception, paranoia, and deluded hubris says more about the viewer than the viewed. 

This article (‘Conspirituality’ — the overlap between the New Age and conspiracy beliefs) by Jules Evans hits on some high points on this topic. We see the makers of 5G, along with Bill Gates, are part of a global eugenics plot by the Illuminati puppet masters. And forget about the forthcoming vaccine that may mitigate measures, as that is part of the plan to inject nano-surveillance devices in all of us. I do have give kudos for such far reaching imaginations, albeit distorted ones at that.

And here comes the nub of the issue: we have undermined the sober metaphysics of traditionalism for the intoxicated magical-thinking of paganism. Whether it's the pollyannaish view that we are the chosen ones to usher in a new global consciousness, or a pessimistic view that we are the clever few who are on to the Establishment's plot to take humanity down, it all comes down to a lack of trust in a unifying God—where good and evil is seen within ourselves rather than between ourselves.

It's not that New Agers don't believe in God, they've just reduced Him into a silent partner. Mix in some ‘benign schizotypy’ that is validated through internet culture, and you've got a religion of disorder.

Thomas Merton was on to this back in his day before all of this craziness, when he said:
“The notion of dogma terrifies men who do not understand the Church. They cannot conceive that a religious doctrine may be clothed in a clear, definite and authoritative statement without at once becoming static, rigid, and inert and losing all its vitality. In their frantic anxiety to escape from any such conception they take refuge in a system of beliefs that is vague and fluid, a system in which truths pass like mists and waver and vary like shadows. They make their own personal selection of ghosts, in this pale, indefinite twilight of the mind.” 
Merton then goes on to say that: “They take good care never to bring these abstractions out into the full brightness of the sun for fear of a full view of their unsubstainability.” That may have been true in his time, but certainly not now. Today, their lack of modesty is taken over by an overzealous pride—albeit sometimes couched in the anonymity of debased social media chatter. 

Such hubris by conspiracy types is used to overcompensate for their fragile relationship to Truth. Without a vertical authority, they have no leg to stand on since there is no Source of intelligibility holding them up. As such, these views are often fragments of a disordered mind that can not rest in a Father's trusting embrace.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Free to Be an Island Unto Ourselves or Be with God

David Walsh says, “Men generally know what they should do; they simply refuse to do it.”

It's like we are condemned to Truth and to distort it at the same time. It's probably like the song says: if loving you is wrong, [then] I don't want to be right. And I've chosen the wrong on more occasions I want to admit outside the sacrament of reconciliation.

Often the deep answers to life are not complicated, but rather simple. That doesn't mean they are easy. We have many competing interests and motivations, sometimes conscious and sometimes not, taking on our deeper conscious. We'd often rather fight or flight than fall in line in Truth. And there is no good reason for it.

Walsh notes, “The deliberate choice of darkness and self-destruction, in the face of the appeal toward light and self-actualization, knowing full well the futility of the choice as incapable of changing the outcome, is a radical unintelligibility.” Yes, I think that's a fancy a way of reiterating Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

And yet, sinners gonna sin.

Moreover, this “discloses the precarious character of our exercise of freedom.” From the get go, our freedom in never really autonomous. We are always responding to something beyond our control—such as a pandemic or a crazy girlfriend or a nasty tweet. Sometimes these forces can even be supernatural, making the need for grace to be every more present. Yet, man has a funny way of picking himself by his bootstraps to attain a haughty self-sufficiency. Grace be damned, he thinks.

Thomas Merton says, “We get tired of this “faith” that does not do anything to change reality. It does not take away our anxieties, our conflicts, it leaves us a prey to uncertainty. It does not lift all responsibilities off our shoulders. Its magic is not so effective after all. It does not thoroughly convince us that God is satisfied with us, or even that we are satisfied with ourselves (though in this, it is true, some people's faith is often quite effective).” Which just goes to show you, that our freedom is “a drama enacted between the poles of certainty and uncertainty” (Walsh). So we'd rather be an island unto ourselves—where we can be certain of our insanity rather than be uncertain of a God who is with us.

The first choice always has to be taken alone. Walsh insightfully expounds,
“The mystery between our freedom and and the knowledge that structures and directs it is that the latter emerges only to the extent that it is actualized. The more we respond to the glimmerings that first attract us faintly, the more they become beacons of light irradiating the path before us with unanticipated intensity. A reality that had previously seemed to offer us unlimited choice now works to constrain us within its imperious demands. Not that we ever lose the capacity to turn our backs on the higher life that calls us. But the more we respond in fidelity to its appeal, the less attractive the option of closure appears to us. We have been “captured” by the strength of that higher reality. The option of turning aside is always there, but why would we want to exercise it when it means the loss of the only reality that counts? A human soul grows to the point that it begins to measure itself and all that it does in light of the truth of that higher reality. Rejection can still occur, but what can pull us back to a life of falsehood and meanness? The attraction of virtue and the emptiness of vice have become unmistakably clear, to the point that we might even say we have no choice.”
The first choice becomes the no choice, indeed. Our free will becomes Thy will.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

God Going Viral

“Let me not squander the hours of my pain” — Rilke

So how does an existential event like this impact me? Sure, there is the anxiety and fear. But here are the gifts: reconciling with an estranged father, reconnecting with old friends and girlfriends, checking in with neighbors and people in the community, and the feeling of solidarity with humanity and a deeper love of God.

That doesn't negate the suffering and evil. But is this by chance or intention? Is there a justified reason for such things as pandemics? Well, those our questions above my pay-grade. But for anti-viral shots and giggles, let's take a stab.

You got the people who believe God is neither transcendent and immanent (secularists). Those who think God is transcendent but not immanent (deists). And those who think think God is immanent but not transcendent (pantheists). They all got some excuse for this, but it's either too one-sided or completely incomplete.

If we take the Judeo-Christian perspective, we know God is transcendent. So He is responsible for the first cause of the building blocks for creation. But all those secondary causes: stars exploding, viruses forming, politicians bickering; those are just accidents from one view and God's infinite schema from another. We just can't explain it all as a singular event when there are so many moving parts in God's plan. So viruses just want to do what viruses do. Sadly, politicians do too.

Yet also from the Judeo-Christian perspective, God is imminent and still with us during these trials: “the earth is full of His glory.” As I recently heard Paul VanderKlay say: “Tolkien is not in the Lord of the Rings, but yet he is everywhere in the Lord of the Rings.” So while we have our own agency, it is not in competition with God's agency (strange attractor that it is) either. He's in the play, feeding us lines every so often. There's always the perpetual interplay of freedom and destiny.

Still, as Rutledge notes, evil is not nothing. We can't really just say it is an absence of Good, but more like a negation. She notes, “if we speak of evil simply as absence, we are in danger of abstracting its malign effects, or distancing ourselves from them.” And that's not how we need to engage in this moment. Evil has it's own force, although not ontological as God would be. We can't explain it away, and it has it's own explanation that we can't truly understand. Rutledge says the best response to this is often silence—a silence that may bring closer to an authentic response that words would never accomplish.

So while evil and suffering can make you struggle with God, it can't negate His existence. There's the famous quote by Rabbi Milton Steinberg that sums this point up: “The believer of God has to account for the existence of unjust suffering, the atheist has to account for the existence of everything else. So let me struggle with God.”

Maybe instead of trying to answer the big questions around God's relationship to crises like what we are currently going through, it is probably best to answer what is our relationship as individuals to all of this. As Bishop Barron recently said, let's instead consider “what is the opportunity for love that has opened up to me in this moment?”

Friday, March 13, 2020

It's Not that Modernity Was a Bad Idea, We Just Weren't Ready for It

We are enslaved by a system that despises art and has no room for love and reverence; and so we can be excused if we think sometimes that the end draws near; the soil is stale. Unless there can be a rebirth, our world is doomed, and it must be a rebirth of reverence. — Father Gerald Vann (from Contemplative Day Book)

The looming pandemic crisis is a time to take stock. I have no idea how this will play out, but I am almost certain we are in the midst of a reckoning that we haven't seen in a few generations.

The Steven Pinker's of the world have preached about the better angels of our nature becoming more commonplace through modernity. And there is much to appreciate with Pinker's work. But I think he fails to see as we got better at perceptibly organizing our systems that gave us the mirage of our halos, we also got good at outsourcing our individual wisdom. As Rutledge says, “although it is indeed possible to organize better societies, the project to create a better human being is beyond the capacity of of humankind. The veneer of civilization is very thin, now as always.” 

In the advent of all this informational advancement, we became soft in character. Moreover, we allowed all the mysteries in science and technology to undermine the depth of spirit and religion.

And now we will come to see we are not so advance after all. A hidden enemy will make its way through much of civilization, and while the fatalities will be low percentage-wise, the systemic outcome from this will play out for years within our already fragile institutions.

Am I being too pessimistic? Yes, maybe.

So I will say I do believe we will endure, too. As to whether we make better choices post-pandemic remains to be seen. This young generation, who appear to be less impacted by the virus, will have that opportunity.

In spite of what will come of a new direction, Father Stephen Freeman makes this astute observation: 
“A long litany of slogans enforce the notion that “changing” things, even in the slightest way, is how a life should be measured. It is the very essence of the lie that is modernity. We simply are not in charge of history. Even those who imagine themselves (or whom we imagine) to be the great influencers of current events are not in charge of history. Hitler and Mussolini were not in charge of history. Churchill and FDR were not in charge of history. No one holding political office (nor all of them together) is in charge of history.
God alone is in charge of history.”
Certainly, God could not have offered more testing kits and face masks. But we could have remembered Him more—instead of being preoccupied with silly things. It would have ordered us more to what matters.

I hear a few say prayer will not get us through this, but who said prayer is meant to do anything worldly? There may be other intentions for it that are not of our own. A friend passed along this quote: God provides minimal protection; maximal support.