Category Archives: politics

We Are Stubbornly “Beasts at Heart”

A contributor to the Washington Post, Kara Swisher, who writes from the perspective of the business world noted the “unconscious bias” that is often made in such things as hiring practices.  She described it as “a bias that kicks in automatically, with our supposedly unthinking brains making often-inaccurate snap judgments…While I am fully aware of the science behind the concept — which basically boils down to the fact that we are all beasts at heart — it’s pure laziness by some of the world’s smartest and most innovative people to pretend they are unconscious of something so glaringly clear. It both abrogates the responsibility of leaders and fobs it off on training and classes that never seem to solve the problem, no matter how much money is spent.”

The ”unconscious bias” is much related to the epistemic closure or confirmation bias that is often a focus in my blogging.  There are premises that are involved which influence our decision making and these “premises” are difficult to pay attention to, primarily because we don’t want to pay attention to them. These premises are a template through which we filter our rational thinking and they are heavily laden with emotion to the point that “rationality” often eludes them. This is a human dilemma and most of us have wrestled with the issue from time to time, squirming under the painful realization that our stance on various issues in life were totally irrational and merely reflecting of what had been an “unconscious bias.”  The pain of this self-awareness is often so intense that our conscious mind just will not permit the insight, opting to affirm even more passionately our biased view of the world. Furthermore, we can always find like-minded persons who will “confirm” our bias.

Our political system in the United States currently illustrates what happens when two different world views are “dug in at the heels” and refuse to budge, not realizing that the obstinacy is bad for all in the long run. The core issue is identity itself.  If we take our identity to be only what and who we “think” we are, then we will not be able to back-off of our viewpoint and realize that often the other view point has more validity than we first thought.  This notion takes my mind always to the domain of existence I like to describe as the spiritual, that region in the depths of our heart where we encounter and learn to live with the vulnerability that comes in realizing understanding that the essence of our being lies beneath the surface realm of rationality.  Then, at times we have to agree with Swanson, “We are beasts at heart.”

The irony is that this stubborn “beastliness” is usually most conspicuous with religious beliefs.  No one deliberately opts for “ignoble” beliefs in their religion.  The problem comes when they subscribe to “noble” beliefs but then interpret them in such a way that the result is that other people are marginalized socially at least and sometimes politically.  At times the “marginalization” has even led to violence as religious fervor has become so intense that a believer feels that his belief system must be forced on others even at the “point of sword.”

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The Finger Pointing to the Moon is not the Moon!!!

I recently posted on one of my other blogs about a favorite subject of mine, a closed-referential system also called epistemic closure or confirmation bias.  I focus on this issue because it is personally relevant given my youth in a very close-minded community and religious culture.  And my knowledge about this matter is so personal that without a doubt I am revealing that my “escape” from the close-mindedness is not complete and probably never will be.  In fact, it is impossible to cease to think outside of a context and that context is always larger than one is aware of.  We do not have an “objective” existence and if we ever accomplish that stance we will have become God and personally, I’ve already told friends that if I ever give evidence that I think I have accomplished that, “Just come and shoot me!”  I often like to use the term “god-complex” for those who are so rigid in their belief system that the uncertainty necessary for faith is not permitted to visit them.

My focus for the moment is the way in which religious thought can become self-contained so that it is self-referential, leading always to group-think and the aforementioned epistemic closure.  In a spiritual context like this “god-talk” is nothing but idle chatter even though the “chatting” might be done with great solemnity and fervor.  The “god-talk” I have in mind can be thought of as social grooming, amounting to nothing more than “car-talk” or banter about the local sports team.  Social grooming is very important and even has value in a religious setting though not when it is an end in itself. “God-talk” might be thought of in the spiritual context I come from as the exchange of common-place notions like, “Jesus Saves” or “Praise the Lord” or “Isn’t God wonderful” or “Hallelujah” and all of these terms have value.  But their value has meaning only when they are used in a group dialogue in which they are explored in terms of personal experience and not as mere grist for a social mill.  When reduced to this grist, they have the value only of “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.”

The core issue here is epistemological, the word is not the thing or as the Buddhists put it, “The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.”   But our culture has misled us, teaching us that “the word is the thing,” that it is the “thing in itself” and not the pointer that the Buddhists would have us learn.  This view of the world gives us the impression that the world is one dimensional, that there is no immaterial dimension to life, and that our everyone is empowered to claim objectivity.  But the problem with this “objectivity” is that it encourages everyone to claim the right to this objectivity which puts on our table at this present moment two diametrically opposing views of how the world should be seen.  One view is conservative and at its root is a firm belief that “the way things are” is valid and need to be maintained, that “walls” need to be built around it to keep out the ever-encroaching peril of the other view.  This other view, the liberal view, does not see reality as static but as a dynamic flow that permits us to have only a viewpoint, not an objective grasp of “the way things are.”

The “immaterial” dimension of life, i.e. the “spiritual”, could humble each of these perspectives and permit the finding of common ground.  The conservative and the liberal energy is necessary in any political body but when each side is dug in at the heels conflict cannot be resolved and catastrophe can take place.  But by using the term “spiritual” I have just opened a can of worms as the word means something which is not spiritual in the least but a means of social control and even tyranny.

TO BE CONTINUED

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The Spiritual Darkness in Our Politics

The Republican Party is pretty sure it now has a plan to replace Obamacare that will please the contentious part of their party and might get approval of the House of Representatives.  They are determined to fulfill their vow to “repeal and replace” Obamacare regardless of the cost.  I almost wish they could succeed just so they could “get a life” and focus on the mundane concern of addressing the needs of our country!  If their concern was other than some emotional petty vindictiveness toward President Obama…they still can’t get past the color of his skin…they could have taken the approach, “Hey, there are problems with Obamacare.  Let’s address these problems, resolve them, and get on with our life.”  But, that would never suffice for them as they have to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, regardless of the cost of the effort and the impact on the American public.  This is what happens when ideologues dominate in a legislative body, they obsess with “ideas” rather than any actual “intent” that the ideas reflect.  This is, of course, a normal stage in the development of a child, to take the “word” for the “thing,” but most of us mature and begin to see that there are others present in our world.  AND, when adults are thinking and behaving like this, there is a “spiritual” issue on the table, meaning there are conflicts raging beneath the surface that are not being addressed. And, addressing these conflicts by bringing them to the light of the day is painful, so painful that most individuals as well as groups opt to not do so.  It is much easier to just continue to seethe in the depths of their heart and take their rage out on someone or some other group.  And, if you are driven by racism and other primitive demons, the task is made easier as you can take it out on a black former President.  They are overlooking that President Obama has a life, and though he will be disappointed with what they are doing, he is not going to take it personally which is what they want.  They hate that man, not realizing that hatred is devastating to those who harbor it as well as to anyone around them.  But, lacking any self-awareness, they are missing this truth.

“Why is There not a Christian Isis?”

A white supremacist recent challenged a Washington D.C. Muslim lawyer, Qusim Rashid, “Why isn’t there a Christian Isis?”  He was roundly rebuffed, with Rashid pointing out the violent history of Christianity with the Crusades, the genocide of Native Americans, and the brutal enslavement of African “heathens” to bring them Christ. The challenge to this Muslim demonstrated the lack of self-reflection present with many conservative Americans, not having any insight into how that what they see “out there” is usually right in the depths of their own heart.  And I would add to Rashid’s answer the observation that in highly “sophisticated” American culture we have mastered the art of sublimation so that our violence is often camouflaged so it passes for the ordinary.  And I think this is particularly so in all religions, including Christianity.

Violence is intrinsic to human nature and I think religion was given to us by the gods to facilitate an integration of the schism in our soul that leads to violence.  But when a religious practice is limited to the cognitive/rational realm, the inner recesses of the heart are not even addressed meaning that often our religious practice can be intrinsically ugly and escape our carefully-crafted version of self-awareness. (For more on violence and the sacred, check out Rene Girard.)

For example, in this venue and others I have addressed the sublimated violence of fundamentalist Christianity where manipulation, intimidation, shame and social pressure are often one dimension of the Christian emphasis to “win souls to Jesus.”  Just one illustration of this is the post-sermon altar call in which threats of hell-fire and damnation are de rigueur.  The Jesus I believe in today was, and is, the Son of a loving God and does not need human artifice to woo anyone into his kingdom, especially little children.  Little children who have “the hell scared of them” with fire and brimstone sermons are being subjected to systematic abuse and the cultural predominance of this violence will be effective in most instances.  These little children will grow up under the tyranny of a “loving” god, knowing in the depths of their heart that to let any dimension of their belief system go will be to encounter the terror that was evoked in their youth by the manipulation and intimidation by their church.  They will be “trapped” in their faith, not able in most instances to evolve spiritually and learn that God is not the beast they were presented with in youth.

And, of course, this ideological entrapment is obviously true also with the interlocutor of Mr. Rashid.  The ideology and life-style of white supremacists is deeply etched in their hearts, often by fundamentalist religion, leaving them free to make accusations of others about spiritual darkness that predominates in their own heart.  “Don’t believe everything you think,” I would remind them.  But they can’t help believing what they think because, being trapped in a cognitive prison devoid of God’s grace, they cannot find the “space” to question their motives.

(For more on the Rashid interaction with the white supremicist, check out the following link–https://www.someecards.com/news/politics/white-supremacist-muslim-history/)

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“Caking” the Gay Away!

The gay-conversion strategy of some evangelicals has been described as, “Pray the gay away.” Now a pastor has claimed that a cake he had anointed had cured a young gay male of his homosexual impulses. (See link at end of post.) Well, I am sure impressed and intend to contact that pastor to see if he would send me “one of them there” anointed cake that would cure me of bald-headedness and neurosis! This pastor’s claim falls into the bumper-sticker category I use often, “Don’t believe everything you think,” and this is especially so when it comes to religion.  Declaring that God is leading, or that one has received a word from the Lord is easy.  But that does not make it so!  For example, the Crusades of the Middle Ages were supposedly a Divinely inspired effort to convert the heathen even at the point of sword.  They were totally wrong about any Divine leadership in spite of the fervor of their belief at the time.

The Shakespearean “pauser reason” is relevant here.  Reason is much more subtle and complicated than merely letting our internal cognitive chatter run amok and find expression. This “pauser reason” dimension of our rational faculty permits us to assess from time to time some of the things we say, or want to say, and realize suddenly, “Oh, that’s not such a good idea” or even, “That’s non-sense.”  If reason is used with maturity, there will be a filter in play which will take consideration of the context and the implications of what is being said.  An example of someone without this filter is demonstrated by those suffering from “Tourette’s Syndrome” who blurt out totally inappropriate things.   Yes, not unlike our President who is severely impaired with respect to any filter!.

I do believe that the notion of “God leading” or “God speaking” to us is a valid formulation in spiritual life.  But I’ve seen so many instances when one was only announcing what he or his group wanted for self-serving purposes and tacked on “God is leading” to justify it. A great present day example is evangelical Christians who announced piously that “God hath raised up Trump” to lead our nation.  I think some of them are beginning to have second thoughts about that, presenting them with a more fundamental problem, “Can I, being a noted evangelical leader, admit that I was wrong about God leading me?”  I predict that in most instances their answer will be an emphatic “no” as they, like Trump, often have this characterological inability to say the words, “I made a mistake.”

Relevant to admitting being wrong, it is even harder to recognize that one has just been foolish!  But foolishness is part of being human and even more so in the area of religion.  It takes a lot of courage to learn to admit foolishness on occasion, perhaps using the famous word of former Texas Governor Rick Perry, “Oops”!  (That was Perry’ sheepish response when he could not remember the third of three points he was attempting to make in a presidential debate.)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/anointed-cake-lance-wallnau_us_58d1f579e4b02d33b746c96b

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“Who Am I to Judge?”

Trump supporters efforts to justify their support for their leader reaches some extremes at times.  One of my favorites, often from the evangelicals is, “Who am I to judge?”  When I first heard that, I could not help but think, “Oh my gawd!  Who am I not to judge?”  Trump is mentally ill, this has been very apparent from early in last years campaign, and yet this lame justification is positing the notion that we should follow the admonishment of Jesus and “judge not that ye be not judged.”

But this lame-ass response comes from those  who fail to acknowledge that they judge in every other respect everyday.  They “judge” about anyone that is different from them, including blacks, Muslims, homosexuals, non-Christians, and basically anyone that fulfills their need for a “them.”  But after wielding that judgment mercilessly every day of their life, and doing so obnoxiously, with Trump they lamely and piously ask, “Who am I to judge?”  They are showing us that their judgment is very selective.  When someone or something comes along that fits their needs, that embodies all of the hidden dimensions of their heart, they are willing to say, “Well, maybe I won’t judge on this occasion.  Just who am I to judge anyway?  Why is everyone so hard on this man who is only a “baby Christian'”?

We cannot be human and fail to exercise judgment.  To think that one can is very naive.  Yes, I am here demonstrating “judgment” of Trump and “who am I to do so?”  My legal standing on this matter is that I have one eye and half sense, I am not stupid, I am not morally bankrupt, and I can see when “the emperor has no clothes on.”  But it is very important for me to note on this matter an axiom that I live by, “What you see is what you are.”  Though I judge Trump, and will continue to do so, “There go I but by the Grace of God” for I see so clearly how he articulates a dimension of my lily-white, faux-Christian ass that mercifully I learned to encase within a sense of basic civility and respect for others, i.e. “basic human decency.”  One simple example, I will never make fun of a handicapped person.

Hatred of the “Other” in Religion

Dave Chappelle offered a comedy skit years ago which is the best illustration of the lack of “self” awareness.  He portrays a black man who is a white supremacist who has been kept from awareness of this “problem” by a KKK hood for decades.  But when the hood comes off, and he has to admit that he is a “n…..r”, he still cannot lay aside his racism.  (See hilarious clip at end.)

Disregard, hatred, and contempt of “the other” is deep-seated.  It reveals itself in so many dimensions of life, usually without notice unless one has a very astutely discriminating eye.  For example, I have become very aware how that in my spiritual tradition the insistence of drawing the distinction between “Christian” and “unchristian” is often just an effort to maintain the unconscious “us vs them” paradigm.

Sometimes I like to parody this phenomena with the following spiel:  “I just hate people who are intolerant.  I want to line ‘em up and shoot ‘em!  I wanta humiliate them and then kill em!”  This is relevant to present day with people who have an inordinate emphasis of setting boundaries with immigrants, wanting to deport them when at times it goes beyond the pale of basic human decency.  Certainly immigration laws, boundaries, need to be present and need to be enforced.  But it appears to be that the immigration issue has taken on a larger-than-life emphasis, has become a “cause celebre,” allowing people to vent their existential “us vs them” venom to be focused on this one issue.  And, “us vs them” is an essential dimension of identity.  But when one’s core identity is tenuous to begin with, he/she cannot tolerate the ambiguity of reality to recognize that the distinction between “us/them,” or “me/thee” is often not as clear as we would like to think.

This is a spiritual issue.  But Protestant Christianity has emphasized “us vs them”, i.e. “saved vs unsaved” and failed to realize the inclusiveness/forgiveness that Christ brought into the world.  This is best illustrated when Jesus chose not to stone the Samaritan prostitute at Jacob’s well, which the “Republicans” of the day were encouraging, instead telling her to “go and sin no more.”

Dave Chappelle clip:  — http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3a3f0f