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Monday, July 26, 2010, 5:33 PM
On "Mythbusters," when an experiment didn't go his way, Adam famously said: "I reject your reality and substitute my own."
In the ironic and iconoclastic TV show, this is very witty.
But when it comes to governing the United States it is not so funny.
However, increasingly President Obama seems to be telling the American people: "I reject your reality and substitute my own."
So Obama touts a plan for victory in Afghanistan that few people, including conservative Republican columnists such as George Will, see as workable or possible.
In Obama's view the economy is recovering while polls show a majority of Americans see the U.S. still stuck in recession.
Obama sees rescuing Wall Street bankers as a priority over helping homeowners facing foreclosure. But how many American voters are bleeding hearts when it comes to the poor little rich boys at the New York Stock Exchange.
In the media we see photos of President Obama golfing, playing basketball, taking his wife on dates to fancy restaurants, and strolling through the Maine woods with his photogenic family in tow.
Whatever, the economic woes of his constituents, the President is one happy-go-lucky guy.
Suddenly it seems we have Alfred E. Newman of Mad Magazine running the country: "What, me worry?"
In this true life adventure, the President increasingly appears to be living in an alternative reality that few Americans can recognize.
His political enemies accuse him of lying. But when most people lie, they usually know what the truth really is.
But Obama does not appear to be lying so much as he appears to be talking to us about a reality that exists only in his head.
Thursday, June 17, 2010, 7:05 PM
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation ...
-- T.S. Eliot
G.K. Chesterton used to say that he found it odd that people deny original sin because it is the one Christian doctrine that is verif iable just by looking around at what is happening on the streets.
But the very thought that we live not only in an imperfect world but in an imperfectable world seems too dreadful for most people, whether they are religious or not.
The media constantly reports on the obvious failures of humankind to live up to anything like a vision of a perfect world, and yet immediately commentators demand solutions.
So we are constantly looking for a politician who will rid government of its tendencies toward inefficiency and corruption, even though we have no evidence that any government ever came close to this ideal.
This leaves the media, barflies, and most of the general public asking a series of questions that the history of the human race indicates are just plain silly.
Why are business executives so greedy? Why do politicians lie so much? Why are entertainers so prone to bad behavior? Why do people who drink get drunk? Why do 17-year-olds want to have sex?
When will all this end?
Who is going to fix these people and rid us of these problems?
Generations raised on TV sitcoms where all family problems could be solved in 30 minutes seem not to grasp that this only works in popular fiction.
Generations numbed by commercials believe the classic sales pitch: "You've got a problem and we have the solution." (And by the time the problem reasserts itself, the seller will have another solution.)
So, voters continually vote for candidates who promise to fix up all their troubles, and then are surprised when things get worse instead of better. Next election, they cast their vote for another politician, who promises to do better than the last one, to say nothing of the one before that.
Self-help addicts are sure the next book or tape or weekend seminar will change their lives for the better. This week's prosperity gospel may not work but there's always another Sunday and another sermon.
Shoppers are sure that if they buy a new gadget it will make them cool. And when they lose their cool, there will be another gadget on sale.
Sufferers from restless leg syndrome are only a pill away from a cure. And when the first pill makes them larger, they'll get a script for another pill to make them small. Until they catch the sickness unto death for which there isn't any pill at all.
These things are obvious cons believed by people who don't believe in original sin even though confirmation of St. Augustine's teaching is available 24-hours-a-day on the cable news channels.
Chesterton, up in Heaven now, may find this amusing although not surprising.
For as Eliot observed:
... human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Sunday, June 6, 2010, 11:44 PM
As Harold Bloom pointed out in The American Religion, our fellow Americans make up a theologically inventive group.
What other country has created so many new religions ranging from the not successful Shakers to the very robust Mormons and Pentecostals? Plus Unitarians and Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, Unitarians and others.
Bloom, who is a non-observant Jew, says Marx was wrong because in America, religion is not the opiate of the masses, it is the poetry of the people.
And it appears that people are writing their own poetry in the individualistic way that Americans approach almost everything.
This has a bearing on "churchless Christians" that many standard brand denominations are trying without much success to lure back.
There are two reasons for polling data indicating that a majority of Americans believe in God but fewer and fewer are attending churches.
First, there is the hodge-podge lodge of pick and choose beliefs, most notably found among the so-called cafeteria Catholics. But there may be a lot of cafeteria Protestants as well. There is also cross-cultural mix and match going on among different religions, such as Zen Catholics. It may drive purists nuts but welcome to the American religion.
Second, those of folks in congregations may be underestimating how difficult it is for an outsider to visit their church. A local church I visited earlier this year has a form visitors need to fill out during the service: name, phone, address, email etc., which in my humble opinion is a lot of data to collect on someone who is just visiting. There was also a microphone passed around where visitors were pressed to stand up and introduce themselves. My wife and I found this very over-the-top intimidating. To say the least we never went back. I don't know if this is common practice in Methodist and other standard brand denominations but it felt like a marriage proposal on a first date: "While we wait for our entree would you like to marry me?'
So while churches may believe they are inviting us "churchless Christians" back into their homes, they may not be making us feel all that comfortable. Beyond that, some churchless Christians may never fit into an existing church structure because they are inventing their own unique American religion, and that is just a fact of life in these United States.
Thursday, December 10, 2009, 2:50 PM
God is odd. And that’s good.
Had this revelation after completing listening to the audio book version of The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St. Germain: A Blackie Ryan (Bishop Blackie Ryan Series) Story by Father Andrew Greeley.
Father Greeley suggested that God is strange throughout this locked room mystery novel of liberal Catholic theology where his Bishop hero most often refers to God as She or Herself, in the Irish way.
And then suddenly it all made sense. Our creator, or in the Hindu version the consciousness that manifests in us, is strange so it is not surprising, and certainly not shameful, that we Her people are strange.
This is not that different from Swami Muktananda saying: “God dwells in you as you.”
Now, it no longer brothers me that Sri Ramakrishna combines beautiful teachings with bizarre behavior and politically incorrect opinions.
Then I got to thinking, Lord how is it that I am enjoying this very Catholic novel. And that’s when I got my second revelation. No, I don’t have to run out and become a Catholic, overall I wouldn’t fit into their church very well at all. But through the universalism of Ramakrishna and the Vedanta Society, I can encompass Catholicism because it takes in all religions. Yes, in particular practices Catholicism is different from anything I would want to do, but in the over-arching theology, especially the liberal branch that Greeley represents, I can identify with it.
I can also identify with the spiritual program of Alcoholics Anonymous and the born again Christianity that also helped George W. Bush get sober and stay sober. And I can accept and learn from the Quakers, Buddhists and Hindus without necessarily practicing their particular rituals.
It is true that Ramakrishna was strange and God is strange, and even Jesus had his moments of fear, doubt and irritability. And all the rest of us, the children of God, are strange. The children of God are odd.
This world and it’s inhabitants are not perfect in the conventional, common sense understanding of perfection and the nightmare of perfectionism and perfectionist behavior.
Accepting that I am an imperfect human being begins with understanding that “that’s the way God planned it, that’s the way God wants it to be,” as the old rock spiritual had it.
God is strange and the children of God are odd.
If I have some awareness of that, I can relax and just enjoy God’s play, at least, a little.
Sunday, October 18, 2009, 11:17 AM
The Devil wore a digital watch.
This is a little known fact.
Jesus was in the wilderness
for 40 days and didn't know
what day or time it was.
Then the Devil showed up
and said: "It's the Sabbath."
And Jesus said: "How do you know?"
Then the Devil showed him his
digital watch and said:
"See you should be in temple."
But Jesus said: "The Sabbath
was made for man, not man
for the Sabbath."
And generations of football fans
yet unborn and un-named gave
thanks for this teaching.
However, the Devil would not
give up that easily.
He whipped out his Blackberry.
"Look at this! It's a combination
telephone, digital time keeper,
personal calendar, and you can
check out your favorite Websites,
and send email and Twitter."
But Jesus said: "I don't Twitter.
I don't email. I don't have
favorite Websites and I keep my
personal calendar in my head."
At this point the Devil saw
a potential sale slipping away, so
he produced a hi def flat screen TV.
"Look you can watch all your favorite
shows in high definition."
But Jesus said: "I don't have any
favorite shows and I already see
the whole world in high definition."
In desperation the Devil took Jesus
to a big box electronics store,
which was a wholly-owned subsidiary
of Hinges of Hell Enterprises, Inc.
There were rows of personal computers,
and all manner of hi def televisions,
and tons of portable mobile accessories.
Everything sparkled like new wine.
"All this plus iPhones yet to be
invented can be yours if you will
just follow me," the Devil said.
"You can't fool me," Jesus said.
"All this will turn to rust and dust,
except for the plastic parts that
will pollute landfills for millions
and millions of years."
"Oh, come now," the Devil replied.
"Surely you could use an MP3 player
to play you some tunes during those
lonely nights in the desert. It's
a great little device. It brings you
full surround sound stereo through
these little ear buds. Try it out.
You can hear all the instruments."
But Jesus looked around the store
and said: "These are instruments
of the Devil. These are the Devil's
own devices of distraction."
Then Jesus walked out of the store,
passing the counter where he might
have applied for easy credit with no
payments due until January 2010.
And the Devil stood there screaming:
"Socialist! Luddite! Environmental
extremist! Anti-American! Killjoy!
I hope I'm not leaving anything out!"
Jesus just kept on walking, never looked back.
Saturday, October 17, 2009, 9:58 AM
George Carlin, up in Heaven now, hated unnecessary words: The weather nitwit on TV predicts a rain event, as opposed to just plain rain.
This unnecessary verbiage is usually spewed out by broadcasters, who are trying to fill up air time while waiting for their brains to kick in with something else they can say.
Event isn't the only unnecessary word used to fill gaps in the oral brain dumps of radio and TV commentators.
Experience is another.
The other night, a sportscaster calling a baseball game told his audience that the batter was a home run hitter during his college experience, as opposed to during college.
Lovers of precise speech might also take issue with the over use of issue.
During today's game we learned that a pitcher's career had been "hampered by an elbow injury issue," as opposed to an elbow injury.
If the game is delayed by a rain event, the broadcaster can go down to the clubhouse and interview the players about college baseball experiences and injury issues.
Meanwhile, the cable station cuts to a commercial where a brewery promises to enhance your beer drinking experience.
No mention is made of any possible bad drunk event, or hangover issue.
Friday, October 16, 2009, 5:22 PM
When the London Daily Telegraph did a story on C.S. Lewis in 1944, the reporter referred to the famed religious essayist and creator of the Narnia children's fantasies as the "ascetic Mr. Lewis."
This got quite the reaction from Lewis's Oxford pal, J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of the Lord of the Rings, according to Alan Jacobs' excellent biography of Lewis,THE NARNIAN: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis.
The Daily Telegraph description "made Tolkien splutter with incredulity and indignation. He wrote to his son,'Ascetic Mr. Lewis' !!! I ask you! He put away three pints in a very short session we had this morning and said he was 'going short for Lent.'"
Jacobs notes that Lewis, who enjoyed theological arguments over beers in local Oxford pubs, would reply: "There's no good trying to be more spiritual than God."
Thursday, October 15, 2009, 10:40 AM
Word comes of the passing late last month of Ramesh Balsekar, the guru of acceptance.
Ramesh was unique among the gurus of India in that his version of Hindu philosophy was totally without the usual adherence to ritual or practice.
For the Westerner, he was also unique because, as a graduate of the London School of Economics, and the retired president of the Bank of India, he spoke plain English. There was no need for an interpreter with the possible confusions that come with translation.
His was a very simple and straight forward philosophy.
There was no need to sit in the lotus position or meditate on a mantra.
He was like the ancient Greek philosophers who cut to the heart of things.
The concept of self-realization, which among some Hindu gurus requires years of ascetic practices, was defined simply by Ramesh.
This is what he said.
He said: "Self-realization or enlightenment is nothing more than the total absolute acceptance – not just intellectual acceptance but the deepest possible acceptance – that every action is a divine happening or a happening according to the cosmic law, but not something done by anyone. For me that is enlightenment."
Like the mystics of many religions, Ramesh believed we must ultimately accept that despite what our egos tell us, we are not in charge. Everything we do, everything that happens to us, everything that happens to everyone else in the world is a divine happening, which some may call God's will.
To the Western mind this is belief in the prayer that never fails: "Thy will be done."
Such total acceptance is, of course, easier said than done.
In which case we may accept that we cannot accept that.
I cannot love this person, place or situation.
I cannot accept this person, place or situation.
I accept that I cannot love or accept this person, place or situation.
And there is realization in that acceptance, too.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009, 11:30 AM
"We live in a broken world," the television preacher said sometime last year as the economic crisis rocked the economy.
I don't know what else he said because I changed channels, not being interested in hearing a TV sermon.
But that single sentence stuck with me as I see more and more evidence that we have become a nation of Charlie Browns attempting a kickoff and surprised over and over again when Lucy pulls away the football at the last minute, although she always promises that this time she won't.
The media, marketers and politicians seem to have succeeded in creating a mass delusion that the world can be made perfect if we just eat our broccoli, buy the advertisers' products, and follow their policies for success.
Then we are shocked when broccoli eaters die along with their broccoli shunning cousins.
And the policies, which were meant to bring about the perfect world, end up having unexpected and unintended consequences, mostly bad.
Easy credit designed to create a booming consumer economy and an ownership society where everyone realizes the American Dream, ended in the nightmare of financial collapse.
A pharmaceutical culture offering a pill for every ill, including making 70-year-old men feel like they are 17 again, leads to steroid enhanced super cheats in sports and physicians addicted to their own prescription pain killers and mood enhancers.
The cell phone that freed you from having to stay in the office, now allows your boss to use the GPS feature to track your every move in ways that would make George Orwell's Big Brother green with envy.
We just don't get it.
We live in a broken world where human perfection is not in the cards.
But only a few philosophy majors and honest preachers seem to know that.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009, 5:29 PM
The old men, bent and gray,
compare their personal
General Hospital scenes
around the lunch table.
An aged historian is beset
by so many ills, it seems
his diseases have diseases.
An arguing sort of fellow
he tells of fighting both
his sickness and his health
He suspects doctors and nurses
are medicating him in order
to quiet him down.
Finally, having kept his peace
through this litany of maladies,
the ancient astronomer says:
"You're a walking medical dictionary."
That quiets down the historian.
But the ancient astronomer,
silently bearing his own
crippling disease, has something
more to say, so he says:
"We only rent these bodies.
There is no warranty.
They're made to last 70 years.
After that you're on your own."
Oh, hadn't thought of it that way.
That quiets everybody down.
Truth is a terrific tranquilizer.