Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Truth is Subjective

I've just finished watching (on DVD) "The Iron Lady," and much of the history of Thatcherism it presents there oddly enough explains the predicament we are in today; especially Thatcher's determination to make her conservative principles work despite all evidence to the contrary.  When the '80's boom in Britain finally happens, one has very little reason to believe, from the film anyway, that Thatcher's policies had anything to do with it.  But one can also see how the resolutely anti-Keynsian Thatcher has set the standard for the Western world in response to a much more serious crisis today.  She could not, Meryl Streep declares, allow Britain to go bankrupt.  Well, until it was time to go to war over the Falkland Islands (interesting aside, that).  But helping the people of Britain, who were losing their houses?  She knew the price of milk and butter (the grocer's daughter), but what did that matter when they couldn't pay for their homes?

Still she insisted on her principles, not because they were right for the situation, but because they were right:  period.  The Big Idea must prevail.  And when the economy responded, she was vindicated.

Or was she?

Which brings me 'round (more or less) to this comment from Windhorse:

Paul Ryan undercuts his own appeal to Catholic social doctrine as a justification for his budget a number of different ways. Firstly, his stated concern has always been about balancing the budget as a routine matter of "fiscal responsibility." He never appealed to the concerns of the poor prior to his (conveniently timed) rebuke by the bishops and it's pretty clear that his attempt to portray his budget as some kind of passive social activism is just as cynical a move as theirs.

Secondly, if his Catholicism is really that primary in his life then I would think his faith would require him to withdraw or at least radically rework his budget in favor of the poor out of obedience to his spiritual leaders. Crickets on that front. While I understand his mocking retort about "some people" thinking that they've owned Catholic social doctrine in this country was directed at the liberal nuns, it may as well have been directed at the bishops whom he is disinclined to obey.

And finally, his budget actually takes what is an historically low tax burden for wealthy and LOWERS it even more, cutting out all sorts of revenue streams the government has collected for years while balancing that by cuts to programs the poor rely on. How the hell can he pretend with a straight face that he is working on behalf of the poor when he is actually giving a preferential option to the rich? Why not maintain social programs, cut defense, and raise taxes if you have such solidarity with the poor?

So I guess this is just my long-winded way of saying that I don't take his words at face value and that I believe that Paul Ryan is a lying sack of shit who could not care less about the struggling and impoverished, at least not if their continued existence is going to sustain that irritating bugaboo of big government.
 It's that "routine matter of 'fiscal responsibility' which is the lingering stench of Thatcherism, because Meryl Streep's Thatcher is no more concerned with "the struggling and impoverished" than Paul Ryan is, especially "if their continued existence is going to sustain that irritating bugaboo of big government."  People must fall in favor of the Big Idea.

Which, to bring it back around, is where I part ways with the Bishops, or anyone who insists abstract notions must, in any case, in even one case, trump the needs of any given individual.  And yes, I know how radically unethical that statement sounds.  But I say it as a pastor, and defy anyone to tell any individual in ethically complicated straits the dogmatic doctrinaire line to that person's face in the very moment of crisis.

If you do so, and don't feel you did something wrong, you are the one who is ethically compromised.  Which is not to say the proper response is whatever you think that person wants to hear.  But if you do not, in that moment, understand that you are now in a foreign country where you don't speak the language, that you are, in fact, wholly in another person's life which is not your own and when the crisis has passed they have to live with their decision, but you do not, not ever, not for one moment.....if, as I say, you don't understand that simple existential fact; then your ethics are worthless.  They are a clanging gong and a rattling cymbal, and nothing more.

To deal in abstractions is to insist the world conform to you.  To find the world will no more conform to you than it will stop turning, is the beginning of wisdom.  To insist on pain for others that doesn't fall on you and yours at all, is the root of sinfulness.

There is no other honest way to put it.  Margaret Thatcher, like Paul Ryan, was shielded by her position, and her ideology.  We who have tried to help the living keep from dying in the trenches, do not salute them.

8 Comments:

Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

To insist on pain for others that doesn't fall on you and yours at all, is the root of sinfulness.

Amen to that. Jesus said, 'Take up your cross....'. He said nothing about laying crosses on the shoulders of other people.

All too often, I find myself referencing Jesus' words in my responses. You'd think I was a preacher, or something.

7:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your life is as isolated as Ryan's. Mainline Protestantism is NPR at prayer. It's Lady Bountiful-syle paternalism with an iPhone. No wonder Mainline Protestantism is shrinking away. It hasn't had anything of value to say to anyone since the the sixties. Why bother with church when I can read "Mother Jones" with less trouble and for less money and get the same message?

3:28 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Anonymous--

If you can read all I have written as an apology for mainline Protestantism, you still aren't getting the message.

And this place doesn't cost you any money at all.

8:36 AM  
Blogger alberich said...

Which, to bring it back around, is where I part ways with the Bishops, or anyone who insists abstract notions must, in any case, in even one case, trump the needs of any given individual. And yes, I know how radically unethical that statement sounds. But I say it as a pastor, and defy anyone to tell any individual in ethically complicated straits the dogmatic doctrinaire line to that person's face in the very moment of crisis.

Is it unethical? Some would argue it is the very core of ethics: after all the golden rule isn't about abstract principles but rather the very individual - do not do to others what you would not have them do to you.

Anyway, a story: http://www.berdichev.org/stories_of_the_rabbi_a.html

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Windhorse said...

Whoa, I'm very honored and humbled to have been quoted.

Which, to bring it back around, is where I part ways with the Bishops, or anyone who insists abstract notions must, in any case, in even one case, trump the needs of any given individual.  And yes, I know how radically unethical that statement sounds.

It is as radically unethical as the iconoclastic statements and actions of Jesus' ministry placed within the context of Jewish law and society. As Alberich points out - and as you have pointed out many times over the years on this blog very powerfully and persuasively - placing the needs of other persons above fealty to abstract ideas or material things...or ourselves...is the very basis of an ethical system. And further, it a necessary foundation for spiritual Love.

When Christ performed healings on the Sabbath the Pharisees said, "See? He does not respect the Lord's Day." When he revealed that following him path demanded that one leave one's family (issues and entanglements) behind they accused him of violating the Commandment to honor one's father and mother - not the only Commandment of which he ran afoul, of course. Indeed the story of Christ's public ministry in the Gospels is woven together by a thread of episodes in which he runs up against the authorities and the strictures of the "Big Ideas" of his day and chooses to subsume their demands to the needs of individuals time and time again - whether those Ideas arose from the sacred tenets of Jewish orthodoxy; religiously sanctioned vengeance that was seen as essential to keep society from descending into choas; or simple polity and time-honored custom. 

So I'd say you're on the right track with your radical notions, or at least in good company.

The conflict between Christ and the religious authorities of his day are no different in kind than the conflicts in our day between the demands of our "authorities" - whether they be Princes of this World or Princes of the Church - and the real needs of individuals: Randian Heirophant Paul Ryan and the sacred doctrine of national fiscal responsibility versus hungry and homeless children who have no pretty ideological objections to where their much-needed assistance comes from; the Vatican and the US Conference of Bishops' demands for "radical obedience" and doctrinal purity versus the pressing needs of the poor, the sick and dying who desperately need access to government-funded health care even if that system contains within it provisions for abortion or contraception. And on and on.

Spiritual blindness is simply the refusal to see the pressing truths of the present moment because of ideological blinders. A sufficiently blind society is going to stumble around in the dark and cause untold suffering and destruction while never acknowledging it like some sort of drunken Goliath. In the past few months alone we've heard such proclamations from those in power that "no one is going hungry in America;" "that women make as much money as men for the same work;" "that there is no climate change, "the BP spill did not damage the Gulf," and any number of variations on the idea that "the poor are poor by their own fault" while imputing to them various degrees of criminality and/or responsibility for the current economic crisis. 

As you point out, the only reason people can make statements such as these that are at such odds with reality is that they are shielded from it, by wealth or status. 

2:24 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

I fell compelled to clarify that my "parting ways with the Bishops" has much more to do with their public stance on health care coverage or what Obama's policies are supposedly going to do to charities and hospitals than the controversy over the nuns.

Rick was kind enough to supply a link (in comments below) giving more information on the latter contretemps. One thing it points out is how multi-vocal (and polyvalent, for that matter) the "Vatican" actually is. Which is a separating point from the pronouncements of the US Conference of Bishops (a presumably more monolithic group, especially when they make press releases) or even an individual Bishop (like Bp. Jenky).

And I appreciate that I over egged the pudding with my reach to define an ethical stance. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are in need of gentle correction; especially when they check their humility in favor of their rhetoric.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Which, to bring it back around, is where I part ways with the Bishops, or anyone who insists abstract notions must, in any case, in even one case, trump the needs of any given individual. And yes, I know how radically unethical that statement sounds. But I say it as a pastor, and defy anyone to tell any individual in ethically complicated straits the dogmatic doctrinaire line to that person's face in the very moment of crisis.

Interestingly, more people expect pastors to be plaster saints than they expect them to be human beings.

Push comes to shove, I found almost every member of my congregations harbored a secret limit beyond which the pastor was not to go. Nothing explicit, like drunkenness or licentiousness, but some secret line that could not be crossed because an ethical system demanded it be honored. It was the hill each individual thought I should die on, rather than violate this precious tenet of their ethical system. Upon further reconsideration, I suppose that's what I was thinking of at the time I wrote.

Not to say I disagree with the comments here; but as I re-read it, I realized the multiple meanings possible in it. Or multiple purposes, anyway.

4:03 PM  
Anonymous Windhorse said...

RMJ: I'd like to drop you an email if you're so inclined to share your address.

Regards,

windhorse1@gmail.com

10:35 PM  

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