Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Enemy Is Not Donald Trump or Steve Bannon—It Is Corporate Power

"Trump is not an anomaly. He is the grotesque visage of our collapsed democracy—Trump in his coterie of billionaires, generals, half-wits, Christian fascists, criminals, racist and deviants." - Chris Hedges, Chris Hedges, from a recent speech titled “After Trump and Pussy Hats” delivered in Vancouver, British Columbia,

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Hauerwas Writes . . . Christians, don’t be fooled: Trump has deep religious convictions

Read  Christians, don’t be fooled: Trump has deep religious convictions, The Washington Post, January 27, 2017

My brief remark posted in the comments of the above piece.

If I recall, the early "believers" were called Christian as a pejorative of sorts and were considered atheist since they would not worship the Roman gods or the emperor. Perhaps this is a lens toward a better understanding of what a “Christian” genuinely looks like today? 

Per illustrationem, let’s see, I don’t ascribe nor entertain the notion of a God who fills my bank account with affluence, but I do ascribe to a God who is found among the suffering (you know, the marginalized, immigrants--strangers, the poor, and maybe—who knows—sinners like Donald Trump—never mind!). And, ah, I am ennobled in such a way to not place much hope in an office nor a person as if he/she is some kind of high priest over all.

Yes, in the world of Donald Trump’s “Christianity” (and perhaps many of his followers) I am an atheist and a fool—so be it [translated, “Amen”].

* *
Now the death of God combined with the perfection of the image brought us to a whole new state of expectation. We are the image. We are the viewer and the viewed. There is no other distracting presence.  And that image has all the Godly powers. It kills at will. Kills effortlessly. Kills beautifully. It dispenses morality. Judges endlessly. The electronic image is man as God and the ritual involved leads us not to a mysterious Holy Trinity but back to ourselves. In the absence of a clear understanding that we are now the only source, these images cannot help but return to the expression of magic and fear proper to idolatrous societies. This in turn facilitates the use of the electronic image as propaganda by whoever can control some part of it.    
- John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards: A Dictatorship of Reason in the West (NY: Vintage, 1992), 460.

                                                                         * *
One of the early Christian responses to the evil empire of its day was to "resist the evil one" non-violently, creatively, i.e., in a manner to that gets him to think about what he is doing (not the Billy Graham weak kind of response, please!)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Science is a Driving Force of the Women's March on Washington and Around the Globe

“Both skepticism and wonder are skills that need honing and practice. Their harmonious marriage within the mind of every schoolchild ought to be a principal goal of public education. I’d love to see such a domestic felicity portrayed in the media, television especially: a community of people really working the mix — full of wonder, generously open to every notion, dismissing nothing except for good reason, but at the same time, and as second nature, demanding stringent standards of evidence — and these standards applied with at least as much rigor to what they hold dear as to what they are tempted to reject with impunity.” 
 -  Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1996)

Fairbanks Alaska, 1/21/2017

“Without science, democracy is impossible,” - Bertrand Russell, Education and the Good Life (1926)

See Images of Women's March around the globe at The New York Times

Monday, January 2, 2017

Overcoming the Dominant Script of the Masses: The Adventure of Ana-theism and its Libido, Bārāq

“It is the tyranny of hidden prejudices that makes us deaf to what speaks to us in tradition . . .
the hermeneutical problem.”   - Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method

As a professed ana-theist, I do not need to agree nor participate in the national political fascinations, anxieties and dramatics that captivate (mediate) the masses. When the nation-state appears more lost than ever, sucked up in the vortex of political fever and anxiety, I am reminded that I am identified with and mediated by a counter narrative that takes serious the gift of life and the need for a non-anxious, interpretive guide via the great traditions, such as the Jewish and Christian traditions, yet not to exclude the contributions of Eastern and philosophical inputs. I am a Westerner on a journey, and this has been no choice of mine; it’s a necessity for existential survival.  Stanley Hauerwas makes this point plain in his essay, “Christianity: It’s not a Religion; it’s an Adventure.”  “[Y]ou do not choose God’s story. You don’t get to make God; God gets to make you. You are made by being brought into the community through which you discover your story.” [1] And one never really knows where that story unfolds.

It’s clear to someone like me who has passed through the liminal state—out of naïve theism (the majority blindly socialized by a dominate script or narrative), through the necessary force of doubt with the mediating guide of the apophatic tradition guiding me to work out the mythical traditions (hard, dark spaces of caves, clouds and mountains)—transformed to live quietly and yet prophetically (Parrhesia)[2], embracing the thinning niche of my existence.

The liminal state is well illustrated in the mythic story of Jacob (Genesis) the night before he nears the tribe of his brother Esau. Here Jacob in great inner turmoil wrestled with a stranger, demanding a “blessing”. This illustrates the rare epochs of one’s life when faced with the need to give great rigor, wrestling with text/story, language, questions, doubt and life itself in the midst of immense sense certainty[3], injustices, danger, and uncertainty. Wrestling is serious mediation (hermeneutics) that endeavors with courage to seek, explore, witness, and experience Bārāq (Hebrew). Often translated “blessing”, this word is overly and poorly understood by those who live by the dominant script[4]—the narrative for all who have no story, and the underlying script of the majority of Christians and their pastors who do newspaper, television exegesis.

Bārāq is the capacity or perhaps the energy/spirit (geist) to endure with faithfulness and prosperity (a rich Hebraic idea that does not sync with the consumerism of our day). It alludes to the things that feed “generativity versus stagnation” and “integrity verses despair”.[5] Like Job, one can be stripped of everything that life offers yet lacking nothing.  Bārāq provides the mediation, longevity and generativity to overcome the emptiness, the meaninglessness, absurdness of life (society and culture). Ergo, like Jacob, the consequences of wrestling with a stranger is passing through this state and walking away with a permanent limp, i.e., injured in a way that transforms us into a more wholly/fully human being. This is the mark of ana-theism.  In the words of John Caputo (“God Perhaps,” Philosophy Today, 2011) “

Anatheism is a clear, imaginative, fascination and robust account of the life of faith in the postmodern world, a world marked by cultural plurality and religious strife by the astonishing transformations brought on by new information technologies, as well as strident materialistic critiques of religion . . . it is a theism that comes after theism, that returns to theism once again after having passed through a certain non-theism or atheism, which [Richard] Kearney adroitly identifies in various postmodern movements . . . [a] return to faith after doubt [or coming to terms with doubt].”

Sadly, the American Christian right feed off the political machine as if it suffuses our lives with an authority that requires us to work out our allegiance to it while being somehow faithful to the kingdom of God.  Jesus’ wisdom rings true: one cannot have two masters.  Subjection to political government according to the ancient tradition and wisdom (St. Paul in Romans 13) means retaining moral independence and judgment and perhaps suffering the very patience of God. In The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder explains this often misinterpreted text.

The authority of government is not self-justifying. Whatever government exists is ordered by God; but the text does not say that whatever the government does or asks of it citizens is good. . . “they are ministers of God to the extent to which they busy themselves” or “when they devote themselves” or in that they devote themselves” to the assigned function. . . they are ministers of God only to the extent to which they carry our out the function . . . or by virtue of their devoting themselves. . . what is “ordained” is the concept of proper government or the principle of government as such.[6]

From this the question is how to live in servitude (not obedience) along side the governing reality and dominant script, which from a theistic argument, such as Romans 13, is the working out in practical reasoning the ideal of the Kingdom of God. Of course, in a democracy one has a more tolerated response and greater opportunity to serve creatively; and the necessity of a counter narrative is normative and requires imagination, commitment, and humility along with patience, suffering and other virtues such as peacemaking to exist in faithful, generative ways.  An essential practice, e.g., that animates this ideal is hospitality to the stranger. How vital is this when our existing governing powers and the anxiety of the masses systematically forget the poor, immigrants, and marginalized people, while devoting itself to a market economy and ideology? Multitudes are being left out, inapt, without hope and aliveness.

Hope and sadness are intertwined in the paradox of the Jewish and Christian stories. The emergence and development of awareness of the Kingdom of God hungers for the true quality of Bārāq, the capacity that grows out of humility to listen to the universal wisdom that is resident in traditions ("Let one who hears, hear.") and to respond meaningfully with the gift of life (intentionality) among the stranger(s) while living in a politically saturated (mediated) society that holds to a common script that continues to delude the masses over time. Bārāq is the needed spiritual libido of the “great reversal; Ana-theism is the adventure of theism in the post-modern world. Both phenomena in tradition bring understanding to faith and unfold into practice (see Beatitudes). It is not necessary, nor is it anymore necessary to be “Christian” to experience such phenomena and to yearn to be set apart from the dominant script or narrative. Any source of disqualifying and limiting injunction that wants to censure a personal or group definitive awakening out-of the dominate script is primarily from those stuck in the admixture of a theistic view with the dominate script (mostly nationalism).  They will call you either unpatriotic or godless. I say, "Come!"

Identifying, locating and becoming aware of the dominate story is to realize that this is your story if you have no story.  You have been socialized by it no matter what your political affiliation is. So what’s your story? How do you work at and imagine yourself creating possibility in a world of disappointments?    

Here are a few examples of rich, faithful counter narratives linked to sources:
  • New Monasticism is producing a grassroots ecumenism and a prophetic witness within the North American church.
  • The enduring civil rights movement in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, such as Black Lives Matter
  • The School of Life for Atheist is a fresh new paradigm of people seeking communal experience to enrich their personal human welfare
  • Those who have found and teach non-violence having found new narratives in eastern religion and philosophy (see “Being Peace in aWorld of Trauma”)
  • Serious thinking/acting Catholics and others who are guided by the outworking of theology in constructive ways—out of experiences in the world (not stuck in some ancient literal meaning).
  • The L’Arche movement

[1] Stanley Hauerwas, The Hauerwas Reader. Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 2001, 524.
[4] “Therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism”—the script that permeates all of public life and promises security and “happiness. See   “Blessing” so often in common media is used to refer to material goods or a way of consoling oneself so as to think that “God is on my side.” It reduces God to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers.  (see
[6] John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972, 205.

1. “Jacob wrestling with the Stranger,” from The Book of J, Harold Bloom (1990)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Gentle Cynicsim as True Life - Part III: Truth Telling, the Authentic Link to Contemporary Practice

“It is the tyranny of hidden prejudices that makes us deaf to what speaks to us in tradition . . . the hermeneutical problem.”   - Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method

A fresh and critical look at ancient cynicism by way of Michel Foucault, The Courage of the Truth (The Government of Self and Others II) [1] is instructive in reshaping the the notion of a persistent, human foundation of truth telling with one’s life (parrhesia)[2] captured in his title phrase “courage of the truth.” My attention is what and how this notion informs a contemporary praxis of Gentle Cynicism.

To begin, cynicism schematically (Foucault’s outline) in its historical and ongoing form of philosophical practice can be condensed as follows:  First, it is a form of what could be called political boldness. While this occurs in our society, it is often misinformed. A second form is called Socratic irony.[3] This is an apropos response to the previous form and the das Man. A third form shows up distinct from the former two, called cynic scandal. It entails “getting people to condemn, reject, despise, and insult the very manifestation of what they accept, or claim to accept at the level of principles.” Perhaps this shows up in how one might face one’s angst or discontent when presented with the image or reality of what they accept and value in thought, while at the same time reject and despise it in their current life and society. A case in point is the formation of a counter narrative, which can have a scandalous quality to it. It is this form that comes close to the idea of Gentle Cynicism where the truth is told by the very way in which one interprets and lives; its cultivated countering practices may well derive from traditions that have gotten lost along the way (via Enlightenment, Modernity). Traditions are rich living (master) traditions whether wisdom, philosophical, religious, that, when vital, embody continuities of conflict. One who lives authentically and counter culturally displays its goods and risks it among the inauthentic modalities of das Man.[4]

It is the spirit of GC that taps into the rich traditions and human need to investigate and transcend conventional scripting that holds so many blind and dumb, and to challenge orthodox leanings that stifle human flourishing.

At the heart of the cynic life is parrhesia, the act of truth telling. Parrhesia in its nominal form is translated (Latin) "free speech"; in ancient Greek it conveyed the meaning “to speak freely", "to speak boldly", or with "boldness". By implication among the genuine cynic it came to describe a range of speech practice, not only freedom of speech, but the obligation to speak the truth for the common good, even at personal risk.[5]

Thomas Merton in The New Man wrote, “Parrhesia is the fully mature condition of one who has been questioned by God and has thereby become, in the fullest and most spiritual sense, a man.”[6] Foucault describes this mature condition thus: first, there is a manifestation of a fundamental bond between the truth spoken and the thought of the person who speaks; second, there becomes a challenge to the bond between two in dialog (the person who speaks the truth and the person to whom this truth is addressed). Hence, this distinct feature of parrhesia involves courage, e.g., consisting possibly in the parrhesiast taking the risk of severing the relationship to the other person which was precisely what made his discourse possible. In a way, the parrhesiast always risks undermining the relationship which is the condition of possibility of his discourse. This can be witnessed in parrhesia as spiritual guidance, which can only exist if there is friendship, and where the employment of truth in this spiritual guidance is precisely in danger of bringing into question and breaking the relationship of friendship which made this discourse of truth possible (classic examples Jung with Freud, Jesus with the establishment of Judaism; Martin Luther with the Corrupt Roman Church; individuals during the Civil Rights era).

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle also laid stress on the connection between parrhesia and courage when he linked what he called megalopsukhia (greatness of soul) to the practice of parrhesia. Parrhesia is not a skill; it is a stance, a way of being which is akin to a virtue, a mode of action. Parrhesia involves ways of acting, means brought together with a view to an end, and in this respect it has something to do with technique, but it is also a role which is useful, valuable, and indispensable for the city (organization, culture) and for individuals. Parrhesia should be regarded as a modality of truth-telling, rather than [as a] technique [like] rhetoric.[7]

Foucault provides a helpful contrasting with four basic modalities of truth-telling from Antiquity, which helps to put parrhesia in an applicable, ethical space.

Prophecy - The prophet’s truth-telling, his veridiction, is that the prophet’s posture, one of mediation. The prophet, by definition, does not speak in his own name; it is fate that has a modality of veridiction found in prophecy. He speaks for another voice; his mouth serves as intermediary for a voice which speaks from elsewhere. Chris Hedges is a post-modern example, one of the most important reporters who for some time has been responding (truth-telling) to what he characterizes as our collapsing corporate empire.[8]

Wisdom – Wisdom was very important in Antiquity, doubtless even more important for ancient philosophy than prophetic truth-telling.  The sage manifests his mode of being wise in what he or she says and, to that extent, although having a certain intermediary function between timeless, traditional wisdom and the audience addressed, unlike the prophet, he or she is not just a mouthpiece. Here one may consider the influential sages and philosophers who have helped carve new paths for thinking and being, Eastern and Western.  My own life has been deeply enriched from reading the wisdom of such sages as Stanley Hauerwas, Paul Ricoeur, Thomas Merton, Parker Palmer, Marilynne Robinson.  See modern examples in Krista Tippett’s journal article on Einstein.[9]   

Tekhne - A third modality of truth-telling which is that of the professor, the technician, [the teacher]. The prophet, the sage, the person who teaches [tekhne]—these characters (the doctor of X, the musician, the shoemaker, the carpenter, the teacher of armed combat, the gymnastics teacher), frequently mentioned by Plato in his Socratic and other dialogues, possess a knowledge characterized as tekhne, know-how, that is to say, entailing particular items of knowledge, but taking shape in a practice and involving, for their apprenticeship, not only a theoretical knowledge, but a whole exercise (a whole askesis or melete).

In modern times, the expert has become all too familiar and relied upon and supplanted by technology and the utterly insatiable need for data and research based evidence.  While important in the stream of human development and culture, we do well to view tekhne in its proper place. Heidegger in “The Question Concerning Technology” warned,

Everywhere [in Europe] we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral; for this conception of it, to which today we particularly like to do homage, makes us utterly blind to the essence of technology.[10]

Today, it would seem that we cannot exist without the aid of technology and experts’ research verifying this and that in every realm of concern (anxiety).[11]

 Then there is Parrhesia. Ethos has its veridiction in the speech of the parrhesiast and the “game of parrhesia.” In parrhesia “one speaks one's mind in a situation where the stakes are high.” The game is the interaction or dialogue (dialectic) between the speaker and the listener(s) which is intended to lessen the risk; the inherent risk being when the dialogue stretches the limits of the participants.  Edward McGushin explains,

A subject appears for herself when she is called to act and insofar as she can posit herself by taking a position within, and with respect to, the theater of action. The call issues from a dramatic scene—a possibility for meaningful action . . . parrhesia is essentially a “modality of veridiction.” [Foucault] Parrhesia has to do with who one is. [12]
Foucault associates each of the four modalities with distinct domains: fate or destiny for the prophet; being or ontology for the sage; the arts and tekhne for the teacher; and ethos for the parrhesiast. He further suggests that these models of parrhesia are not mutually exclusive, but can coexist and comingle—it is here that his models give historical insight. The GC seeks to hold these modalities in their natural tension while truth-telling from one’s own being in the world.

[1] Michel Foucault, The Courage of the Truth (The Government of Self and Others II) LECTURES AT THE COLLÈGE DE FRANCE. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
[2] Parrhesia is the act of truth telling is at the heart of the life of cynic. Parrhesia in its nominal form is translated (from Latin) "free speech". In ancient Greek its meanings conveys the meaning “to speak freely", "to speak boldly", or "boldness." (Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon) By implication among the true cynic it came to describe a range of speech practice, not only freedom of speech, but the obligation to speak the truth for the common good, even at personal risk.
[3] This consists in telling people, and getting others gradually to recognize, that they do not really know what they say and think they know.
[4] Ultimately or purely, this may well speak to the individualization process playing out robustly, for as Jung explains, “The more he is the pure I, the more he divides himself from the collective man, who he is, and even comes into opposition to this.” [C.G. Jung, Letters II / 7.1.1955 to Upton Sinclair / p. 437] However, more broadly (world disclosive) is the tradition socially embodied and always in hermeneutical flux.
[5] Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon.
[6] Thomas Merton, The New Man
[7] Foucault, 14
[8] See for other examples (some of which may well be sages).
[10] Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays; Trasl. William Lovitt (New York: Harper, 1977) , 4. Heidegger recognized that ‘Aristotelian phenomenology’ suggests three fundamental movements of life including póiesis, práxis, theoría and that these have three corresponding dispositions: téchne, phrónesis and sophía. Heidegger considers these as modalities of Being inherent in the structure of ‘Dasein’ as being-in-the-world that is situated within the context of concern and care.
[11] Pablo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed clearly saw science and technology as an evolving tool that in the spirit of capitalism undermine democracy by development and use of powerful instruments for oppressive purposes: “the maintenance of the oppressive order through manipulation and repression.” The oppressed, as objects, as "things," have no purposes except those their oppressors prescribe for them.
[12] Edward F. McGushin, Foucault’s Askesis: an Introduction to the Philosophical Life (Northwestern University Press, 2007), 7.