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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The poor will always be with you because it's cultural


"When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am the friend of its happiness: when these things can be said, then may that country boast its constitution and its government."--Thomas Paine
Atrios directs me to this:

The growing divide between rich and poor white Americans is studied in a new book called Coming Apart by Charles Murray.

The breakdown is less about income inequality and has more to do with two drastically different cultures that both call themselves American.
Which includes a link labeled: "Click here to see how white America is coming apart."

Which begins a series of charts, led off by the caption:

Fishtown (the working class neighborhood) saw a steady rise in men not making a living. Belmont (the upper-middle class neighborhood) did not
The rest of the charts are about economic factors dividing "white" America. Or, rather, a correlation can easily be drawn between economic status and the charts on marriage, divorce, church attendance (yes, that's related to income; and no, this really isn't news), As Charles Pierce pointed out today, David Brooks has already picked up on this. And yes, this is the same Charles Murray who decided science could prove that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites. So it's no surprise Mr. Murray, et al., are concerned with income inequality in white America.

Since income inequality in "black" America (can we really imagine such a thing?) is clearly the fault of the blacks. Just ask Newt Gingrich. But in white America? Why, it's not income inequality; it's cultural.

Because, you know, it isn't racist if you're a white man saying it about white people.

Now show some initiative and inherit a department store, you lazy good-for-nothings!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Then again....


Without art, without religion, without love and without intellectual pursuits life would not be worth living. It would be the life of ants: busy,busy,busy but with no purpose outside survival of the group. Art is an expression of human life. It flourishes when life flourishes. It is always the personal and emotional projections of an individual.--Dominique de Menil


Working my way backwards from the last post toward what was originally the starting point (i.e., something hopefully substantive), I got this from this at Crooked Timber (the latter should be familiar, and likely will become more so before long), and the first thing they both made me think of was not the proud American tradition of know-nothingism, but the modern American concept of spirituality (which began with Whitman and Dickinson and Ralph Waldo, and their spiritual granddaddy Thomas Jefferson, so "modern" is an elastic term here) the Rothko Chapel. Which I've never seen as clearly illuminated as that picture on the home page, but then again the pictures aren't as monochrome as that, either. The less famous chapel, but the more moving one for my money, is the Byzantine Fresco Chapel nearby. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but then again, the original chapel isn't too awe-inspiring, either. And that raises the question de Botton is trying to address: what inspires awe, and why?

Is art alone inspirational? Or is it what the art represents? Does an icon mean the same to me as to someone raised in the Orthodox traditions? Undoubtedly not. But if I understand that icons are meant to represent the transcendent world, then I begin to find new meaning in them, and meditating (or just sitting in silence) in the Byzantine Fresco chapel can be more meaningful to me than the interior of Koln Cathedral (which I have visited), or Westminster Abbey (about which I only remember Eliot's stone and the inscription on it). Can we separate meaning from function, and allow function to create meaning for us?

I don't think so.

I've been in the oldest church in Europe. Or if not the oldest, one of the oldest; and "old" in the sense that it's been in continuous use as a place of worship for centuries. It was a tiny chapel in Brugges, Belgium. Again, I barely remember it (it was almost 40 years ago, now, that I was there). It was inspiring because it was so old, because it was still a sacred space, and because it resonated with my sense of spirituality. It was, in the old Celtic sense, one of the "thin places." Just from the activities I knew had been conducted there for centuries, I felt the "clouds of witness" around me. But if you don't believe in "thin places," if you reject the idea of transcendence as a metaphysical concept (and what else can it be if not metaphysical? If you are positivistic enough to reject all concepts that are not tied to material strata, then even love and hate are simply products of biochemistry and neural pathways, which is a cold cup of tea in the face, indeed.), then it's just an old building, or an impressive architectural and engineering feat. Whatever impression the Chapel of Humanity made on Maria at Crooked Timber was clearly tied up with her knowledge of the life and thought of Comte, more than it was the mere fact of the space she was in.

Space is space, after all; until you make something else out of it. And no, I'm not sure it's "always the personal and emotional projections of an individual." It's something more transcendent than that; for art and for religion. But that's yet another post.....

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday morning very bright....


Without any scholarly study to back me up, I can still rather comfortably state that the comments at this blog post:

odm,
There’s no evidence that there is God or Gods or whatever, but there’s also no evidence that God is impossible, or in my opinion, unlikely.

I think “God” (and “Gods”) as described by any of the traditional theistic religions—Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism—is extremely implausible. The only kind of God that I consider to be even remotely plausible in light of our knowledge from science and reason is the God of philosophical deism. A kind of distant, uninvolved creator, about which we know nothing.
represent about as serious a discussion of issues in philosophy of religion as I've come across on the web. Which is to say: not even up to the level of freshman dorm room bull sessions at a state college.

Ironically, I heard Alvin Plantinga on NPR this morning. I neither condemn nor congratulate Mr. Plantinga's musings, although I'm not really comfortable with the idea of non-overlapping magisteria (that's another blog post or two). Still, one can scour the 350+ (as of my posting) comments at Crooked Timber and not find one reference to David Hume (who would blast most of the faux empiricism there to bits), Immanuel Kant (ditto), Ludwig Wittgenstein (who would equally eviscerate the faux-positivism stated there), or even Plantinga (who actually makes references, sotto voce, to Godel's incompleteness theorem in his argument).

And yet everyone at Crooked Timber is quite convinced they are wise, knowledgeable, learned, intelligent, insightful, and, oh yes: right. (Not a one of them there has even the most basic understanding of theology, philosophy of religion, or even philosophy. And yet they are as happy in their ignorance of these things as Richard Dawkins.)

These things that pass for knowledge I don't understand.....

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The bitter, painful end of 'Christendom'


I hadn't heard about this:

Lebouvier's case is among a growing wave of de-baptisms in Europe, one of the most visible manifestations of the continent's secular drift. Websites offering informal de-baptism certificates have mushroomed. Other Christians are formally breaking from the church by opting out of state church taxes.
But I must admit it doesn't particularly disturb me. The real problem for some churches in Europe (and I don't know the laws of each country, nor how the churches are, or are not, supported), is in that last sentence: people who opt out of the church entirely, are also opting out of funding the churches with their taxes.

This, of course, prompts all kinds of retorts from atheists and those antagonistic to the Church in whatever form it takes. And, as the article indicates, it may be that the Roman Catholic church especially has brought this on itself; but I don't think so. I think there is a spiritual dimension to this, and the institution of the Church (which exists as much in America as in Europe; the crucial but ultimately minor distinction being the direct tax subsidy) as an institution may well undergo a very necessary restructuring. Or maybe it will be called "creative destruction." Whatever, it isn't necessarily the end, but rather a new beginning:

The bigger worry, experts say, are plummeting rates of new baptisms. Half a century ago, for example, 90 percent of French children were baptized, said Sorbonne University religion professor Philippe Portier. Today, roughly one in three are.

"The church considers de-baptisms a very marginal phenomena and its strategy right now is to resist it," Portier said. "It is much more active when it comes to reversing the drop in (new) baptisms -- there it's put in place a new evangelizing strategy."

The parish at Paris' historic Saint-Germain-des-Pres, for example, is offering a myriad of activities, from ski retreats to support networks for young professionals. At a recent evening youth Mass, the church was overflowing.

The parish priest, the Rev. Benoist de Sinety, is counting on faith, not numbers.

"What is striking today is that those who want to be Christian really want to be Christian," he said. "I rejoice in the fact that people are free to choose."
I would much rather pastor a church of 10 people who really want to be Christian, than pastor a church of 1000 who are only there from habit or convenience or for the entertainment value. And lest you think this is a European "problem," let me resurrect a post I wrote but never published:

The plaster is cracking again:

Of course this rapid growth of megachurches doesn't mean church attendance has increased. On average 50 small churches close their doors every week in America. We've seen 40 years of the Walmart effect -- consolidation rather than expansion. And while the latest infographic reports the average megachurch was founded in 1971, most were not megachurches in 1971. They were average-sized congregations that reached mega-attendance levels in the 80s or 90s under the leadership of a baby-boomer pastor. (I've profiled a number of such churches in the pages of Leadership Journal over the years.)
This is difficult to sum up, but let me try: basically, megachurches are the creations of personality. Jethani is too polite to call them personality cults, but I'm not. I've yet to see a "megachurch" that wasn't built around the charisma and publicity skills of a single individual. And the question not addressed in this article, or in the "infographic" he bases his post on, is the very real question of what happens when the leaders of these churches depart. Jethani mentions only one example, that of Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral. Joel Osteen's church is the best example of a mega church carrying on after its founder dies, but Osteen took over for his father. Ask Oral Roberts how often that works out.

Most of the history of such enterprises is that they fail when the original leader fails. Think of Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammye Faye Baker, Pat Robertson (whose influence began declining when he disavowed his pastoral office in order to run for the Presidency. CBN was once a cable channel. Now Robertson shows up on ABC's "Family" cable channel, for a few hours a night on his once powerful "700 Club.") Oral Roberts suffered a similar collapse when he tried to leave the church in his son's hands; and after Jerry Falwell died his university had some brief influence through it's alumni, but even that is fading now. Anybody heard from Falwell's church or university lately?

True, there are some churches which achieve large congregation status on the basis of being a large congregation. I know of one church which called a pastor specifically to make them grow, and he did. When he retires, the church will probably find a similar candidate to pursue a similar ministry, and they will probably succeed at it. In that model, the pastor is a figurehead for the congregation, not the reason for the congregation. But history shows such churches are few and far between, and besides, they do have a life cycle, like all institutions.

Near me are several former churches; the buildings emptied of the original congregations, some of them filled now with new congregations, mostly Mexican evangelical/charismatic congregations. The segregating of Sunday morning continues unabated. There are also churches which, as I've mentioned before, closed because the neighborhoods around them aged. Old people still go to church if they can, but their children tend not to go to their church. As Jethani points out, the average age of the mega-church is 50; which means, unlike most traditional churches I know, many of the people would actually be younger than me. But what about the 20-30 year olds? Where are they? What are they looking for? Ask Walt Kallestad, the pastor of a church I studied (briefly) in a class in seminary:

Walt led Community Church of Joy in Phoenix, a megachurch that had been an average congregation of 200 before he took over in the 80s and oversaw it's growth. But in 2002 he suffered a massive heart attack requiring six-way bypass surgery. The heart attack, says Walt, was a "wake up call" for the leaders to develop a succession plan to ensure the megachurch continued to thrive after Walt's tenure.

Kallestad began networking around the country looking for a young pastor he could bring onboard and eventually hand the church over to. One conversation stuck with him.

"It's a pretty good opportunity," Walt said. "We have 187 acres just off a major freeway, multipurpose buildings, and a great staff."

The leader looked him in the eyes and said, "Who'd want it? Who in their right minds would want to run that?"

"That's when it dawned on me," Kallestad reflected. "By the time we service the $12-million debt, pay the staff, and maintain the property, we've spent more than a million before we can spend a dime on our mission. At the time, we had plans for a spectacular worship center with a retractable roof. After that conversation, I scrapped it."
I have my own bone to pick with Community Church of Joy, but the story illustrates a truly chilling aspect of megachurches: they are institutions first, and whatever else second. If you are running a church with $12 million in debt to service, 187 acres of land, multipurpose buildings, and "a great staff," what is your first priority? Serving the poor? Saving souls? Or putting paying butts in the pews? To be fair to Kallestad, the article Jetheni links to indicates Kallestad took his megachurch in a radical direction, disdaining the "show" aspects I criticized in my seminary class (and elsewhere) of his ministry in favor of truly doing the hard work of creating disciples. In the process he lost, by his own account, some 4000 church members. This is not the first time a megachurch has decided to take the cost of discipleship more seriously. The New York Times noted Tim Keller's success in 2006. But it also noted that church attendance decline whenever Keller wasn't in the pulpit (a not unusual phenomenon, again to be fair. Even church members who seem to appear in church by habit rather than desire will fade away when the regular pastor is on vacation. But that's in no small part because Protestant churches have by and large learned to attend a church where the pastor pleases them, and not necessarily attend because it is a duty or even a religious obligation.).

On the other hand, Kallestad's concept of "empowering disciples" is illustrated by a grandfather asking Kallestad to come to the hospital to pray for his grandson, and Kallestad convincing the grandfather to do it himself. To infer that lay ministry is radical (I was doing it at the turn of the century, literally. Kallestad writes in 2006, as if he's invented the wheel.) is rather like saying you've found a new concept for December worship called "Advent."

So what is "radical" for a megachurch is not exactly radical for "regular" churches. Lay ministry is a concept working in many a small church where the pastor tries to "empower disciples" by getting them involved in the pastoral care of congregation members. But I have to say I wouldn't send a grandfather to a grandson's hospital bed instead of going myself.

Although, that's just me.

Churches are easy marks for complaint. The pastor is boring, or not interesting, or too loud, or too sleazy, or too.... I've known churches to split congregations over the question of replacing the carpet in the worship space. Churches never do what we want them to do, and when they do, we don't understand why everybody doesn't love the results. But churches can become institutions interested only in being institutions. That was the root of Kierkegaard's critique of the Danish church in the mid-1800's. It could be the root of a critique today by those who want to be "de-baptized" in Europe, or who have just "voted with their feet" in American churches.

Would I reject wholesale the institution of the church, then? No. I need worship, and that means I need others. You cannot worship alone. Moreover, I need liturgical worship, and that means I need a very distinctive institution, both spatially and historically. I need that sense of the "clouds of witness." But the institution, in the words of the old E&R prayer:

Grant that thy Church may be delivered from traditions which have lost their life, from usage which has lost its spirit, from institutions which no longer give life and power to their generation; that the Church may ever shine as a light in the world and be as a city set on a hill.

HEAR OUR PRAYER, O LORD.
But please note that is a prayer for a congregation; and any congregation is, almost by definition, an institution. And maybe it takes events like this for the church, as the Body of Christ and as an institution, to reconsider what baptism is for.

The Church, both laity and clergy, could do worse than to consider that question.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Belated Martin Luther King Day Post


Nothing to say I haven't said before. Except to underline the point, that Dr. King was in Memphis supporting a sanitation worker's strike for economic justice. Or, as the quoted material in the post says:

Little Dovie realised, as Martin Luther King did, that the struggle and the civil rights movement wasn't just about race, but rather a far bigger issue of understanding power and class distinction.
Remember that every time a GOP Presidential candidate talks about the evils of "class warfare" or "the bitter politics of envy."

Dr. King was not envious.

(*corrected due to the kindness and attentiveness of a reader)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Driving a lovely, simple melody right into the ground....


To the great bloggy interweb morass of "Oh, whatever...," add this: I went to a wedding this weekend.

I don't bring it up to trumpet who got married, or how, or that I have friends and/or family who still care enough about me to invite me to leave the confines of the casa in something other than blue jeans, but to raise a point made by Kierkegaard:

"What rules the world," Kierkegaard writes, "is... the fear of humanity. Therefore this fear of being an individual and this proneness to hide under one abstraction or another.... Ultimately an abstraction is related to fantasy, and fantasy becomes an enormous power... [T]he human race became afraid of itself, fosters the fantastic, and then trembles before it."
Although my starting point is actually here:

The great discoveries to which Kierkegaard is referring are made possible by the use of technology, and part of his concern is that the use of technology often results in human beings having "destitute" relations to one another.
Consider the modern wedding: it is entirely a creature of technology, and of the reality mediated to us by technology. The modern "wedding party," with its near army of bridesmaids and groomsmen (this wedding had both a maid and matron of honor, and fix other attendants on either side, aside from the obligatory "best man") is modeled on a royal wedding in the early 20th century. Every young girl, American consumer culture tells us, wants to be the "princess" of her wedding fantasy. Contrary to popular belief, this practice does not extend back into the mists of time. My parents were married in my aunt's living room, and this (despite the fact both grew up in Christian churches), was the norm, not the exception. Even in medieval Europe the public ceremony of the wedding was performed on the church steps, and involved the landed gentry exchanging deeds publicly (so everyone would know who owned what now). The religious portion of the ceremony was conducted privately, with the priest and any necessary witnesses.

But I digress. Weddings now are almost entirely mediated by technology. We expect a fabulous white dress that is very expensive (several thousand dollars for the dress alone seems to be the norm, at least according to reality TV shows. No, that doesn't mean it's the "average," but according to the technology bringing it to our living rooms, it's normative). The "event" is meant to be as splendid and memorable as a royal wedding, with all eyes on the bride and the whole world stopping to take note. Or at least as much of the world as the bride and groom can invite and get inside the church. And to this end, large spaces are usually preferred (or imagined). The intimate wedding, the private wedding, even the wedding in a setting other than an ornate church, is all but banished (yes, it still occurs; but no one sells weddings as events in a pasture or on a beach, unless the beach is at a very expensive hotel or resort). We even expect a certain set of words and order of vows, modeled not on our experience, but on the representations of weddings that have turned the Anglican form of the service into a cliche. Again, it is technology that has made us think this must be so.

Also, the wedding must be recorded, for posterity. Hundreds of photographs must be snapped. The entire wedding party must be held hostage immediately after the ceremony, not for tedious paperwork like signing the license, but for the purpose of posing every member of the party with the bride, groom, in groups, with all manner of parents and family members, until the entire affair begins to resemble a photo shoot for a clothing line catalog. And it must be done so technology can mediate our memories and preserve them for us.

In 35 years of marriage, I've looked at our wedding album probably 3 times. I'm glad we have it, but as a pastor and survivor of some wedding wars, what I remember most are the battles with the photographers, both to keep them from snapping photos during the ceremony, and the tedium of waiting for them to finish taking photographs after the ceremony before we can all go to the reception. Technology makes demands on us we all acquiesce to, whether we quite think about why, or not.

This wedding was no different. Technology, in fact, mediated the very sound of the voices. It was a cavernous brick structure, striking and beautiful, but the only soft surfaces were the people in the pews or on the chancel. The amplified voices of the singer and the pastor blasted out of the speakers and bounced and echoed off the hard walls. It was audible, but not entirely discernible, and yet without the technology we all expect now in public places, people would have complained. We sit passively before the onslaught of our technology, convinced that its slavery is to our benefit, its function is only to improve our experience. It's an odd quirk of our modern world, but one Kierkegaard was diagnosing over 150 years ago, long before it had gotten this bad or become this ubiquitous.

The wedding, like all modern and "big" weddings, was an event, a spectacle, something meant to be seen and heard, but the expectations of it were built by television, not by personal experience. We were meant to be an audience to the splendor, because that is what our technology has taught us to expect from special occasions. I once performed a wedding where I persuaded the bride and groom to serve the eucharist and make it a truly religious ceremony, rather than a secular one with the patina of religion applied to is (I've done a few of those in my time, where I was clearly the hired hand meant to say the words, not the pastor joining two souls in the eyes of God). The attendants (guests? invitees? family and friends?) were non-plussed by this. Having no idea how to react to the bride and groom passing out the plates (it was a very Protestant eucharist; even if we had had a kneeling rail available, no one would have gotten up to come to it), most of them sat politely on their hands and looked uncomfortable. The bride and groom enjoyed it, and appreciated how special it made the ceremony for them.

My best approach in weddings was to tell the couple on the night of the rehearsal that no matter what happened the next day, they would be married at the end of it; that it was a celebration, not a performance. This always visibly relaxed people who too clearly thought of the entire matter as something that must be pleasing to someone besides the two of them, or it would mar their happiness forever (or bring down the wrath and displeasure of some family members). When I say our weddings are now mediated through technology, and we think of them as spectacles to be viewed, rather than celebrations to enjoy, this is what I mean. Why is it our receptions are where we have fun, but the marriage ceremony is where we are supposed to be staid, rigid, and almost entirely impersonal? Where did we get the idea we get married in order to be the center of the world's attention, rather than to happily pledge publicly to our friends and family our love and commitment to another?

"Only when the sense of association in society is no longer strong enough to give life to concrete realities is the Press able to create that abstraction 'the public', consisting of unreal individuals who never are and never can be united in an actual situation or organisation.... The real moment in time and the real situation being simultaneous with real people... that is what helps to sustain the individual. But the existence of a public produces neither a situation nor simultaneity." [Kierkegaard (1962b), pp.60-1]


The problem is the problem of abstraction. We draw out from the world an image of weddings, and put it on screen: first from royal weddings (the official imprimatur from which all social structure flows. Most of manners and courtesy are faint echoes of obligations and orders followed by royalty and those most closely associated with royalty, and it trickles down through the "lower orders" as each tries, in its own way, to mimic those in the strata above). What is drawn out from that association is put on screen: in movies, soap operas, sitcoms; and it reinforces expectations of being the star of our own movie, except this time in real life. And so we abstract ourselves from our own lives, try to "rise above" our "mundane" existence by taking on the imaginary trappings of being the camera's focus of attention (the camera which ever and always focuses our attention). But the characters in movies or on TV are "unreal individuals who never are and never can be united in an actual situation or organisation," and what we draw from their example "produces neither a situation nor simultaneity." It produces an abstract idea that we try to live into, a castle in the air where we try to take up residence, if only for a moment. And it is not, ultimately, disastrous and destructive. But it is, finally, a little pointless; and a little sad.

Every wedding I attend or hear about prompts discussions of the expense involved, and stories of fathers offering the bride and groom a home in lieu of an expensive wedding, because it's a better investment. My wedding was a simple affair by contemporary standards, and I was anxious enough about such an important event that I remember little about it, and I'm glad it wasn't more elaborate than it was. Weddings are a cause for celebration, but they've become a cause for self-aggrandizement, which seems to be another kettle of fish altogether. How many people, a few years later, remember all the minor details of their wedding at all, and yet some are conducted by wedding planners and carried off as if they were military strikes. Does it make your marriage stronger, happier, more loving? Even wedding photos are a cheat; they aid memory, but they remind you, too, of what has been lost, what will never come again. Technology can save things for us, but it can also remove things from us. Photos are flat; static; and dead. "The real moment in time and the real situation [is] simultaneous with real people...." Photographs do not capture that moment and hold it; at best, they remind us that moment is gone forever. It isn't that photographs are bad, or even good: but they are technology, and again they mediate our memories, our experiences. And there is a cost in that.

Not a cost that makes photographs evil, but a cost that makes photographs an example. Who is that person? You may well forget, and someday soon the photos will be in the hands of family to whom that person is a stranger (I have such a photo on my desk, right now. What is preserved is an image. Who is the person who made that image, is lost.)

I really didn't intend to make this a screed about marriage and weddings, except as a more concrete example of the concept Kierkegaard is getting at. I have certainly encountered couples and families for whom the fantasy of a wedding had gained tremendous power, and they trembled before it. It's not that weddings are inherently bad, but we have, and within my lifetime, made them into something massive and complicated and daunting. One of the first weddings I remember attending was my cousin's, held in the groom's backyard. I played the piano for them, the family upright wheeled onto the patio. This weekend I attended a rehearsal dinner, not because I was in the wedding party or had anything to do with the wedding, but because I'm a family member (by marriage) who lives in town. Rehearsal dinners have now become the groom's counterpoint to the wedding reception, only with slightly fewer people. It's a mad kind of escalation that is nothing more than a propitiation of an fantasy which has come to scare us to death lest we do it wrong. It is a public event meant, not for friends and family, but some anonymous public and some observing humanity which we fear will be disappointed, or at least some future in which we will look back and shake our heads sadly that we didn't get it "right" when we had the chance, as if it were the ceremony, and not the marriage itself, which was most important. The problem of the abstraction is that it is the ceremony itself which is most important, even though we couldn't say why. Perhaps we fear being individual, and we create the abstraction to hide under. Perhaps its just that we prefer to replace the fact of living with fantasies mediated to us by our technology, the slave which is our true master.

That seems a little large to hang on something as small as a wedding, doesn't it? But a wedding ceremony is the ultimate public ceremony of relationship, and yet it is mediated into a fantasy through technologies both indirect (television, the "media" of print and advertising and movies) and direct (the technologies that make the modern wedding possible, and often the more elaborately the better). Technologies which replace, for us and through us, as much human connection as we can get away with avoiding.

On the other hand, a wedding is one social function that can never be mediated on the internet. And what can be run through this system of disconnected connection is the subject that concerns Messrs. Prosser and Ward. But to follow their argument, we have to shift gears a moment, and give ear to the rhetoric of Aristotle.

And why Aristotle? Because Kiekegaard's argument, as developed by Messrs. Prosser and Ward, starts with Aristotle's ethos, then jumps to the importance of the kairos, before pointing out technology eliminates pathos, and the result of all these affect, fundamentally (although it seems logically it shouldn't) the logos.

It's really kind of interesting, if you follow it out.

Consider, for example, the feelings of helplessness, disconnection, futility, powerlessness, expressed on any political blog, where the complaints about any one politician are often quite personal, but the attitude toward the voting public is quite abstract and conditional. It's often blamed on the media, but maybe the media is a mirror, not a creator:

"Only when the sense of association in society is no longer strong enough to give life to concrete realities is the Press able to create that abstraction 'the public', consisting of unreal individuals who never are and never can be united in an actual situation or organisation.... The real moment in time and the real situation being simultaneous with real people... that is what helps to sustain the individual. But the existence of a public produces neither a situation nor simultaneity." [Kierkegaard (1962b), pp.60-1]
Why are the people always so stupid, so slow, so ignorant, such sheeple? Perhaps because they don't even exist, except as a concept with no real referent, a symbol with no real object. Rather like a bride and groom, if you think about it, who become mere participants in a ceremony that isn't about them, but about the appearance they make on the stage of their own lives. I've honestly seen more anxiety in weddings about the performance of the task than about the commitment being made, which can make you wonder: what has gathered us here?

... in our age what is an author? An author is often only an x, even when his name is signed, something quite impersonal, which addresses itself abstractly, by the aid of printing, to thousands and thousands, while remaining itself unseen and unknown, living a life as hidden, as anonymous, as it is possible for a life to be, in order, presumably, not to reveal the too obvious and striking contradiction between the prodigious means of communication employed and the fact that the author is only a single individual - perhaps also for fear of the control which in practical life must always be exercised over everyone who wishes to teach others, to see whether his personal existence comports with his communication....
This, of course, is the first desire of authorship: to put your name on thousands of objects. But your existence doesn't comport with the form of communication, and you address yourself only abstractly to an audience equally as abstract as the "author" is. I've seen this, too. Never work in a bookstore if you have illusions of putting your words onto printed pages bound between hard covers. Books are anonymous, the real person behind them not even an abstraction, but a cipher. If you are "known," the crowds flock to hear you; but, of course, they come to hear the author of the work, who may not be you at all. If you are "unknown," your name on the cover is meaningless, your words silent and stifled, and the customers in the store simply look around the anonymous person sitting alone at the table with a stack of books they are not interested in. Such is the power of communication. And how many books move onto the shelves, only to move off again, unnoticed, unseen, unattractive? There is a striking difference between the prodigious means of communication employed and the fact that the author is only a single individual, especially if that author stays a single individual.

Which brings us, finally, to Aristotle. The first order of business for Aristotle's concept of rhetoric is to establish the ethos of the speaker. It's always struck me as the most ironic of the elements, because it is a logical fallacy to attack the messenger in order to critique the message. But Aristotle (the father of logic) is right: the character of the speaker affects the reception of the words. If rhetoric is about effective speech, then the character of the speaker determines whether or not the audience listens. And if the speaker has no character, is simply, by dint of technology ("the prodigious means of communication"), a voice or a set of words, then there is, first and foremost, nothing to listen to. And afterwards, when the speaker is a character, she is a public figure, a person who may not be the one constructed from those words, but who still has to live up (or down) to them, someone preferably anonymous enough not to upset the audience which is a market for all those words, valued by all the persons, from the writer's agent to the bookseller, who make money off of them.

After ethos comes logos, but first for Kierkegaard's purposes there is the issue of pathos, of, almost, sympathy. The speaker must connect with the audience, must, in Bill Clinton's signature phrase, "feel their pain." The audience must, at least, empathize. That moment comes in even the most "perfect" wedding when the bride and groom kiss; it is the first thing that must be sincere, that cannot be staged although it is hotly anticipated; it cannot be false, although it may be uncomfortable and even awkward. It is the sign of common humanity, sometimes the only one allowed (or expected) in the entire ceremony.

Tied to all of this, now, and tied up so tightly I can't bring myself to raise it in a separate post, is my strong feeling that Mitt Romney marked "Paid" to the Tea Party last night in New Hampshire, and that little uprising that was supposed to change the world is as dead as yesterday's headlines. It's tied up with this discussion because I watched "Network" last night and realized that 1976 wasn't all that different from 2012, and while Howard Beale's popular show as the mad prophet of the airwaves presaged the entire Fox News network (watch the movie again and tell me I'm wrong), the kairos of the story could as easily have been today as 35 years ago.

Did you know there was a depression in 1976? According to Beale's famous raging speech, where he comes in out of the rain to tell America to shout "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!", there was. Times were bad, and Beale, according to Faye Dunaway's character, was tapping into the rage Americans felt. Starting to sound familiar? Starting to think we've seen this movie, and it was just a few years ago? Except Beale's rage and rantings lead nowhere beyond improved ratings which finally fall off and give the movie its tragicomic ending. And yes, the comparison has been made before between the on-air rant on CNBC and the start of the "Tea Party," but it supposedly went somewhere; all that rage supposedly changed government in 2010, and OWS was supposed to be the counterpoint in 2012. Except all that's left of the Tea Party now are the US Representatives who will soon be swept from office or made irrelevant, next November. Scott Brown, Senator from Massachusetts, once a Tea Party darling, is running as fast as he can to catch up to Elizabeth Warren, going so far as to endorse President Obama for making his recent, and controversial, recess appointment. Sen. Brown knows which way the wind is blowing, and it's not in the direction of the Tea Party. And while the GOP toyed with the possibility of every radical candidate the party could provide, when it comes to voting for them, the party can't quite seem to gin up enough rage to do that. So the rage Howard Beale tapped into, and the rage the Tea Party tapped into, has run out; the party's over, the ratings are flat, it's time to call in the terrorists for a spectacular on-camera assassination.

What does this have to do with Kierkegaard? Howard Beale and the Tea Party were entirely a construct of television. They lived and died according to the popular perception of them, a perception shaped by abstraction and a complete lack of authenticity. Both were completely composed phenomena based on a perception of "the public" that was itself as false and incomplete as the response supposedly generated by it. Howard Beale's rage was supposed to be clarifying and salvific; in the end, it was simply marketing, and marketing campaigns make nothing happen except to sell people something the already want to buy, and when they no longer want to buy it, the campaign is done. All marketing is based on the same abstraction Kierkegaard criticized: mass appeal to a mass that only exists insofar as it is running from being an individual, a flight which creates destitute relationships (the only person in "Network" who seems even faintly to understand this is Howard's friend, and he is powerless to do anything about it. Everyone else around Howard merrily guides him to his demise, unable as they are to see a human being before them; and, of course, Howard has abandoned his individuality in favor of his madness and his visions, which he mistakes for authenticity, just as he mistakes television for a communications medium.). Television, you see, is not a communications medium. It does not deliver to us a better sense of the world, or even a worse sense of it; a true sense or a false one. It is a megaphone, or a mirror, but it is a neutral object; it is the result of modern society, not the cause of it:

"Only when the sense of association in society is no longer strong enough to give life to concrete realities is the Press able to create that abstraction 'the public', consisting of unreal individuals who never are and never can be united in an actual situation or organisation.... The real moment in time and the real situation being simultaneous with real people... that is what helps to sustain the individual. But the existence of a public produces neither a situation nor simultaneity."
I repeat that because now it should take on a clearer meaning. "Only when the sense of association in society is no longer strong enough to give live to concrete realities...." In "Network" the "sense of association" exists only between Howard Beale and his best friend, and then it runs only one way, as Howard has suffered so many losses before the story begins that he's lost his sense of association, too. The medium is not the cause, it is only the medium. We don't expect miracles and fairy tales from weddings because of television, we expect them because we've lost the sense of association, and even attending a real-life event like a wedding doesn't restore it for us. To the extent we've learned to associate real-life with a TV screen we may even be disappointed with real life, which doesn't afford us the monocular view of the TV camera, but places us in a setting where several things are going on at once. We live less in real situations simultaneous with real people, but among a "public" which feels rage and shouts out of windows on command, or which rises up to "throw the bums out!", then settles back to let TV tell us what we just did, or didn't do, and we expect something, somewhere, to save us from ourselves. So if we can just control the media, or a cable channel, or a political party, or a Super Pac, or get people to read the right book, or think the right thoughts, then "the public" will finally see things as we do, and do things as we would, and we can settle back to our comfortable existence, and perhaps they will at last leave us alone in our living rooms and let us have our toasters and our TV's and our steel-belted radials, and we finally won't have to say anything. Or we can get impotently mad as hell, and shout that we aren't gonna take it anymore!

And then just settle back and take it some more.

That kairos, you see, is supposed to be the situation the speaker addresses, with logos and pathos. Howard Beale is short on logos, but he's long on pathos and ethos. He is first mad because he's so confessional about his woes; he starts his downward spiral by confessing he's going to commit suicide on the air, because he's lost his wife and his job and his reason to live. He starts his "mad as hell" speech by saying he was awakened in the night with a vision about how he was supposed to use TV to propagandize his audience. He lays his ethos before his audience, makes it the basis of his rhetoric, and his pathos is his earnestness. But it is a destitute relationship, an incomplete connection, and he dies a freak, a clownish figure presaging both Fox News and the confessional TV shows which still fill the morning airwaves (go to any waiting room where there's a TV and try to avoid those shows). And what has Fox News or those morning shows made happen? Nothing that wasn't already going to happen, that isn't already a spent force. By the same token Americans poured their hopes and wishes into the vessel of Barack Obama; and by the same token, they were mightily disappointed. We may not want to take it anymore, but what choice do we have? We live by the public; we die by the public. Blessed be the name of the public.

Rhetoric is supposed to be effective speech, but how much effectiveness can it really have in an age of dissociation? Aristotle put ethos first in his list of rhetorical requirements, and Kierkegaard criticized the age (which has not fundamentally changed since he wrote) as one "which reckons as wisdom that which is truly the mystery of unrighteousness, viz. that one need not inquire about the communicator, but only about the communication, the objective only". An age, in other words, in which ethos doesn't matter; or can't, really, because we cannot know the character of the speaker "when the sense of association in society is no longer strong enough to give life to concrete realities." In a land of abstractions, of "the public" and "politicians" and "the government" or "the church," what is real? Where does logos attach, except to abstractions, and of what value are those? But it is the abstraction which has become the most valuable. What can we discuss on the internets, what relationships can we maintain, if we cannot discuss abstractions like the state of the Church, or of our politics, or of our public figures?

Put that way, the questions are still to abstract to be anything but absurd, and Kierkegaard's sound point is lost again. His critique is not, ultimately, with "the public" or even "the Press," nor finally, with technology: it is with us. "How should we then live?", was Tolstoy's great question coming out of the changes technology wrought on society in the 19th century. Kierkegaard's equally profound question was: "How should we then be human?" It is a question that takes a great deal of attention to society to answer, but the answer is not ultimately in society, nor in critiques of society, as correcting society will not solve the problem.

Monday, January 09, 2012

No wonder this man looks confused


Romney:

I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep people healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.
Which would be great if, as an individual, I could have my own insurance; but I can't. I have to have the insurance my employer provides, or that I can afford. And that policy, wherever it comes from, is not "my insurance." It's an adhesion contract: I take it or leave it, and as everyone in America knows, leaving it is not really an option.

An example is the coverage of colonoscopies. Most states have provisions requiring that screening colonoscopies be covered without charge to the insured. But a "screening" colonoscopy can turn into a surgical procedure during the examination. If any polyps or other items are removed during the colonoscopy (which is the best time to do it), the procedure stops being a "screening" procedure within the terms of the law and the insurance contract, and becomes a surgical procedure. You can easily go home to find out you are paying for the procedure you thought was covered at 100%. Can you "fire" the insurance company for that? No, and you can't avoid it by "hiring" another insurance company. The terms will almost certainly be the same whatever insurance you find (and good luck finding insurance for yourself alone).

So I can't "fire" the insurance company that doesn't provide the services I require, but the insurance company can certainly "fire" me, by refusing my claim on virtually whatever grounds they want to come up with. The insurance company doesn't care about the incentive to keep me healthy, like paying for the colonoscopy whether polyps are discovered or not; the only incentive it recognizes is to reward its shareholders.

Which, not coincidentally, is precisely the kind of incentive Mitt Romney seems most clearly to understand.

Addendum: It occurs to me that this situation is precisely why economists don't like "full employment," at least not in the layperson's sense of 100%. At a mythical 100% employment, the employees run the company because they can't be fired: there's no one to replace them. So "full employment" always means a number less than 100%, so that the economy delivers the greatest good to the greatest number. But society requires health insurance for 100% of its citizenry; those who don't have insurance are covered by public hospitals, and publicly funded healthcare. We don't, after all, cruelly countenance letting the uninsured sick die in the streets, if only because of the public health issues (the issues of inhumanity are, I sometimes think, quite another matter. But I am cynical in my old age....). Health insurance is the only way to pay for healthcare, so we have an adhesion contract situation: you have to take it, because you can't leave it; not unless you want your healthcare provided in a publicly supported ER room. So we have the "100% employment" situation: you can't fire your health insurance company, and you can't replace them with one that provides more coverage with less trouble at a lower price. You're stuck, because there's not really enough difference between insurance companies to slip a piece of paper between; or your employer isn't interested in your health insurance claims problems.

Ain't utilitarianism wonderful? Maybe somebody should ask Mr. Romney about the surplus population.....

Monday, January 02, 2012

Playing with fire


Bouphonia moves me to want to say something about the late Christoper Hitchens, though I am mindful of the admonition never to speak ill of the dead, as they cannot respond. I am also mindful that I can't do better than this:
As you can see, things even out nicely. Granted, Hitchens' political miscalculations have a body count. But how about all those dragons he killed? (Or not actual dragons...but, y'know, the whole idea of dragons qua dragons, per se, in nuce, und so weiter. And not actually killed...but, y'know, personally disputed in some adamantine, ontically oppositional sense of not agreeing with 'em nohow, so there.)
There is also the matter that I don't really want to speak ill of the late Mr. Hitchens: I didn't know him, I marginally know his work, and I was never terribly impressed with his polemical style (so I still haven't tried to know much about his work). My experience has been that polemics and eloquence usually mask a lack of thought, and that Mr. Hitchens work was often, to quote a review, "Thought-provoking but poorly referenced." There's something to be said for provoking thought; but there's also something to be said for being annoying. Socrates provoked thought, too; but he was also, at least in Plato's representation, thoughtful. Again according to Plato, Athens didn't finally think so, though they later recanted (but Socrates refused to play the game with them), so perhaps he was even successful there, too. Who can say? Someone always writes history, and we always move on with the messy and contentious present. But I had heard about Hitchens' famous denunciations of Mother Teresa so I thought, without pretending to do real research into his efforts, I would look into the subject just a bit.

And this, honestly, is as far as I got: his article in Slate about her possible canonization (which is more about the Pope moving swiftly to canonize a saint, more than about the public figure), and a review of his book about her (and frankly, stunts like "Mommie Dearest" and "Missionary Position" don't do anything to endear me to Mr. Hitchens' thinking. Cute and smart-ass are not hallmarks of profound insight; they are the work of schoolboys. It's a reason I've never been enamored of Mr. Hitchens' work.) Alright, I've harumphed; let's get down to business.

Hitchens, notoriously fond of George Orwell, can't resist quoting him in his Slate article. It's supposed to be a clever choice, implicitly comparing the "sainted" (not officially, yet, I don't think) Mother Teresa with the beatific Mahatma Gandhi. But Hitchens doesn't get past the first line of the essay, which is too bad, really; because Orwell is much fairer to Gandhi than Hitchens ever is to Mother Teresa. Of Gandhi, Orwell writes:
In Gandhi's case the questions on feels inclined to ask are: to what extent was Gandhi moved by vanity--by the consciousness of himself as a humble, naked old man, sitting on a praying mat and shaking empires by sheer spiritual power--and to what extent did he compromise his own principles by entering politics, which of their nature are inseparable from coercion and fraud? To give a definite answer one would have to study Gandhi's acts and writings in immense detail, for his whole life was a sort of pilgrimage in which every act was significant.
It's a perfectly fair question, and part of the old "in the world but not of the world" dichotomy so familiar to Western spiritual thinking (but not necessarily Western spirituality). There is, in fact, a problem with Western thinking on matters spiritual: we want our holy men (and women!) truly "holy," which is to say heilege, set apart, limned. We want our holy persons to be truly pure, truly unscathed by worldly matters, but then they are so otherworldly we mock them for their uselessness and ask if they are contemplating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We preach it, as the old judge said to me once, round and square, and are frustrated that we cannot have it both ways at once. Gandhi must be holy, and wholly apart; Gandhi must be influential, or what's the purpose of being holy, except self-satisfaction? Orwell wrestles (more or less) with this question. Hitchens blows past it without even seeing that it is there.

The end result seems to be an either/or: either Mother Teresa was a blessed soul who never erred and followed the will of God at all times (yet spent her life in Calcutta seeking, selfishly or not, another mystical experience of God which, from recent reports, she never again had), or she was a charlatan televangelist, an Oral Roberts in India, lacking only the 900 foot tall Jesus. The truth, most likely, is somewhere in between, and while Mr. Hitchens' work cursed Mother Teresa's candle, he did little more himself than curse the darkness. Is that an entirely fair assessment? No, probably not. It is, itself, poorly referenced. Was Mr. Hitchens a bad man? Heavens, I don't know, neither do I care. "Judge not, lest ye be judged" is a fine idea, but a poor one for bloggers and people who make their living writing polemics. Was Mr, Hitchens really any good at what he did? I never thought so; and nothing has changed my mind since his passing. According to Tim Challies, Mr. Hitchens plays the fundamentalist atheist in his book, coming off like the strident and unthinking proponents of Christianity he so loved to debate. I always thought it interesting he never debated a true theologian, in front of an audience of theologians and seminary students, or even before a group of philosophers of religion. He might have been surprised at how thoughtful and well-educated they were. Then again, he might not have noticed. I never saw anything in his work to indicate he would notice much of anything he didn't already think was worth noticing.

The whole matter reminds me of my favorite quote from the film version of "Angels and Demons":

"My church comforts the sick and the dying. My church feeds the hungry. What does your church do? Oh, that's right, you don't have a church!"
That's a bit of a slap, but not an unfair one, considering the kinds of diatribes Mr. Hitchens seemed to prefer. The sad thing is, he might have provoked a discussion along these lines:

The liberal must “save” the poor from poverty. The conservative must keep the poor from indolence. Both pity the poor as something less desirable. Neither attempts to challenge the basic idea that the poor are ultimately disprivileged.

[...] True Christian charity, therefore, is something more than our common definition of pity. White guilt is pity. Condescension is pity. Even inaction might be pity, for some conservatives. And what pity obscures is the paradoxical realization that the poor are, by certain biblical definition, worthy of higher honor. They own something we do not. And the means by which we might participate in that honor with them is charity.

12.2 Ultimately, Henreckson is arguing that empathy — specific Christian empathy — should replace pity. I agree.
Which makes me think of Dorothy Day:

I am reading (Simone Weil's) essays as a part of my Lenten reading...She says that we "...must experience every day, both in the spirit and the flesh, the pains and humiliations of poverty...and further we must do something which is harder than enduring in poverty, we must renounce all compensations: in our contacts with the people around us we must sincerely practice the humility of a naturalized citizen in the country which has received us."

I keep reminding the young people who come to work with us that they are not naturalized citizens...They are not really poor. We are always foreigners to the poor. So we have to make up for it by "renouncing all compensations..."
Mr. Hitchens would probably just eschew Simone Weil, too, and point out that Ms. Day was never the fundraising evangelist for her cause that Mother Teresa was; he would do it and think he'd scored a point, when he'd be missing the point, once again, altogether. He probably wouldn't take kindly to her claim about being foreigners among the poor, and would probably quote another of Orwell's essays about his experiences with poverty, missing the point again and going still further off the mark. I can't say, really; I can only speculate. But if we try to "renounce all compensations," and we fall short; well, we should be called on it. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God....oh, wait, that's Christianity, isn't it? I suppose it's unfair to bring that into a discussion with an atheist, also.. Oh, dear, it is so hard to know just what to say about, and to, the dead.

Perhaps I should say this:
The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
And say I'm quoting T.S. Eliot, and even mention that it's on his marker in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey. It at least gives me more of an excuse to discuss Mr. Hitchens' words, since they are left with us and he is gone.

The point is that there is a branch, a mode, a type of Christianity, which thinks its obligation is to set the world aright and do so on terms agreeable to the agent of such change; and there is a branch or mode or type of Christianity that wants to seek change by taking the world as it is, and responding to the particularities of each person and the life they lead. Mr. Hitchens, per Mr. Challies' review, is disdainful of the cotton diapers used by Mother Teresa's order, noting they use Pampers to impress Hillary Clinton. The implication is they should always use Pampers, but surely the disposal problems of Pampers are as important an issue as the poverty of the people Mother Teresa at least recognized as people (quick, how many truly poor people do you know? By name? Personally? And how many more are simply invisible to you, in your neighborhood and town and in the wide, wide world? Now, how many did Mother Teresa know, or Dorothy Day? And are you a better person if you at least try to help such ministries, even if you try to wash your dirty laundry clean with their good moral purposes?). Religion, like politics, is always inseparable from a certain amount of coercion and fraud. But sometimes it is the goal that matters, not just the means. And sometimes it is the means that matter, not just the goal.

It's just not much of an argument, is it, that what someone is doing in the name of charity is not what you would do? Especially if all you do is point out that they aren't doing it right, at least not by your lights. And what have you done to make the world a better place, besides point out the hypocrisy as you see it? How many mouths did that feed, how many of the dying did that comfort, how many of the sick do your actions, directly or indirectly, help in any way? Oh, I'm sorry, is that unfair? Are we discussing abstractions and ideals and angels on pin heads, and not physical hunger and pain and loneliness and an invisibility that few of us will ever know or, if we do, will ever read about or write about or have any of the luxuries of bloggers or opinion writers or the well-off at the top of the global economic ladder? Yeats wanted to finally end where all the ladders start, in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. Hitchens wanted only to sneer at those who thought such a place could exist, and damn the ones who made any attempt to acknowledge its reality, and do anything at all to improve it, or at least make it more bearable.

It's just not much of an argument, to say that Mother Teresa didn't fit your model of what should be done, that she didn't go far enough in one direction, or went too far in the other, or even that she's undeserving of sainthood. Who cares? Who cares?? Walker Percy at least asked the questions about living a life that matters:

What happened to marriage and family that it should have become a travail and a sadness?...God may be good, family and marriage and children and home may be good, grandma and grandpa may act wise, the Thanksgiving table may be groaning with God's goodness and bounty, all the folks healthy and happy, but something is missing...What is missing? Where did it go? I won't have it! I won't have it! Why this sadness here? Don't stand for it! Get up! Leave! Let the boat people sit down! Go live in a cave until you've found the thief who is robbing you. But at least protest! Stop, thief! What is missing? God? Find him!
Mr. Hitchens wouldn't even ask you to leave the table. He'd only ask that you join him in mocking some public figure because he'd found out she was, after all, only another human being. And if all that matters is that you berate one other human being, if that is what makes you feel wise or vindicated, or just makes it possible for you to earn that Thanksgiving table groaning with God's goodness and bounty, then there is something missing. And what's missing is not what Mr. Hitchens thinks is missing:

The rich world has a poor conscience, and many people liked to alleviate their own unease by sending money to a woman who seemed like an activist for "the poorest of the poor." People do not like to admit that they have been gulled or conned, so a vested interest in the myth was permitted to arise, and a lazy media never bothered to ask any follow-up questions.
It is a mean thing to seem to be an advocate for the poor, when you are in fact merely taking care of yourself. But it is a meaner thing to damn an advocate for the poor, while yourself doing nothing for the poor whatsoever, when all the while only doing something for yourself and your pocketbook. Mr. Hitchens left us still swinging that club; what he didn't do, was leave us seeking for understanding. In his writings, at least, he meant only to bludgeon, and seldom, if ever, to discern. But the world has enough and too much of people willing to bludgeon others, metaphorically if not physically, to assert their positions. What we need a bit more of are people more willing to engage in the hard practice of epiphany; of understanding and discernment. We need someone willing to tangle the holy with coercion and fraud, if that's what it takes. One could make the case that that's the line that Jesus trod: his parables we think so simple and clear are, in reality, as complex and confusing and almost fraudulent today as when they were first uttered. The kingdom of God is like a pearl that a man bought by selling all he had? It is like a woman who spends more than the coin is worth burning oil at night to find it, then wakes the family to have a party and spend more to celebrate finding it? It is like an assassin who practices throwing his blade before he goes out? It is like yeast, which makes the whole measure of flour unclean, rather than heilege?

Discernment is much more interesting than polemics; if it isn't nearly as much fun.

And I suspect had he examined Mother Teresa's work, rather than set out to savage it, he might have done the world a great deal more good.It might almost, dare I say it, have been an epiphany.