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Thinking Through Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method

Found essay from 1988, when I was immersed in the academic study of religion. This was not the only tool in the toolbox, of course, but it’s funny for me to see the way I thought about things from that perspective. It was during my first year of graduate school, and I always tried to find something of value in everything I read, always tried to rescue something from a text even if I disagreed with many of its points. I was struggling to situate my thoughts in a context that was still very strange to me. There are a couple of good bits but it’s hilarious how ungrounded this really was, and how I floundered with the idea of understanding itself. It’s also interesting the way I sidestepped the issues of gender, race, class, and even geography. Still, there’s something from that time that does live on in me. I was perhaps kinder then, and more curious.

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Scientific methodology in the human sciences, including the study of religion, is shaped by a scientific ideal that excludes the observer from that which is observed. The use of objective methodological tools to analyze and control key texts places the interpreter above the realm of the examined. The participatory aspect of humanity and tradition is often not taken into account, and so a dead representation of the original meaning, wrenched from its rightful place, is transmitted in a rehashed form inappropriate to the experience of the time. Gadamer, in Truth and Method, outlines an ontological shift which seeks the reintegration of “belongingness” as a way to vitalize and reunify the truth obscured by the alienating “distanciation” of method.

“Effective-historical consciousness” allows us to recognize our present reality as part of a tradition that cannot be done away with. We cannot wish it away (although we may sometimes ignore it and assume an ivory-tower stance). We stand in a context in which we pose questions of a text that may have contributed to the context in which we are standing to ask the question. The sphere of understanding shown within texts from the past (or even of a different and contemporary community) has a different “horizon” from the one in which we are asking questions. Likewise, professors in an academic context provide the shape (to some extent) of the horizons of students and other colleagues. The interpreter, through a creative and responsible interpretation of texts, opens new horizons yet becomes part of a particular tradition.

A historical and reflexive consciousness is particularly appropriate for scholars who study religious and philosophical works, which have shaped the academic world in which we find ourselves. Individually, we play with academic traditions and we are played by them, but we must also find common ground to discuss the “something” called religion if we are to consider ourselves as composing a distinct discipline within a pluralistic society. An examination along the lines of methods and theories in the study of religion is one way to explore the ways discussion is currently proceeding.

In the study of religion, we consider important cultural texts, language captured by signs called words, wholly abstracted from a particular place and time and let loose on the world. If the text speaks in such a way as to expand the current horizons of the individual reader, it also speaks dialectically to and through the interpreter in the form of a dialogue of question and answer. The text may become (or may already be) part of a human tradition, and it may shape the questions and answers of the future in ways that were never intended by the author. Hermeneutics seeks to retain the unity of the original meaning while letting the text speak to the current constellations of meaning. The text has the possibility of becoming a hermeneutic event at any time, and–if it is published–for anyone who cares to read it. In addition, the text may have the power to shape the world view of a community.

Gadamer is often perceived as a conservative because his emphasis seems to assume the rightful authority of a present tradition. He is, after all, playing with and being played by his own context, which may be a privileged one. If the tradition of which Gadamer speaks must necessarily be limited to being for and about only a small portion of the human population (as critical theory would have it), then it is possible to see flaws in his philosophical-hermeneutical thought. However, if one applies Gadamer’s insights to Gadamer’s own work, it is possible to argue that his emphasis on a certain type of Western tradition (in which he lives, and must speak from) is not fundamental to his understanding of being and knowing. Rather, his hermeneutic approach is part of its own historical dialogue and opens the doors to a better understanding of our present consciousness.

In questioning institutional authority, one takes a stance against a certain type of prejudice as it is expressed by power, but to do so necessarily expresses another in relation to the opposed viewpoint. Gadamer may be a bit idealistic in presenting dialogue as a universal possibility–as though all sides would sit down amicably, discuss political ideology, agree on a plan of action, and peacefully change the world. However, one cannot criticize effectively without coming to a dialogic understanding of the claims being presented. To put this another way, you have to grok it somehow to be able to translate it at all into another context, even if it’s to critique the claim.

Without the language of experience expressed in the claims of the oppressed, critical theory could not exist. The interpreter of culture permits the subject matter to have its way, without losing a sense of hermeneutic validity. The claim of the text or artwork must be allowed to score its own points, and the interpreter tries to become as conscious as possible about how their own pre-understandings may be obscuring or cloaking their interpretation. Pulling in every kind of approach you can – existential, poetic, etymological, sociological – within and outside the text brings better questions to ask. Empathetic common ground, then interrogation. Gadamer does not go so far. He does reinscribe, so that his welcome is slightly cyborgian.

It is impossible to avoid the historical context; history and understanding proceed onwards and around–together. Gadamer’s reflective moment is in a continual dance with the historical one. Creativity and imagination are born of language that has its home in a particular place. Although Gadamer phenomenologically links authority, prejudice, and tradition, his elucidation of the interaction of these terms attempts to rehabilitate these terms from their negative connotations. Each individual voice–in becoming itself–decides what “authority” means before, through, and as one speaks in language in which we “articulate the experience of the world in so far as we are in agreement.”

The dismantling of barriers to understanding can be accomplished only through language based on hermeneutical experience. Social criticism and more importantly, cultural understanding, would only be supported by full and complete interpretations of key texts through an open (but careful) dialogue with them. Hermeneutic approaches encourage bridges of understanding in our pluralistic society by encouraging the voice of the alien, the voice of a stranger in our strange land, to become in some sense “at home.”

Situating human consciousness is a continuous dialogue that rests on an event of understanding that places the experience and the interpreter/participant within an interstructural world of language. The hermeneutical event is as much an ordeal as a subject for study. Religious thinkers and writers and artists deal with precisely these issues. The interpreter of art, culture, psychology, and religion must seek the self in the alien and become at home there, partaking of another worldview, which in turn informs a changed self, one that has reshaped its presuppositions, in order to begin to translate those claims into the continuing dialogue outside the self. This is the hermeneutical circle. Without a dialogue (language) based on both methodological approaches and grounds and subjects for discussion, no community of scholars could exist.

Careful attention to language is a way to create a keen understanding of this community. Whether it is specialized branch of academic study, or a global community, the group or individual projects possibilities for itself and reshapes its own presuppositions continually. For instance, memory as an idea has an history of its own. The concepts of remembering, forgetting, and recalling were formed in and into traditions of common use, they were not created in a cultural vacuum. Ideas, as expressed in words such as memory, fact, truth, God, and religion have histories which cannot be ignored if the words are to be employed. In addition to the history of ideas, the individual or group who “remembers” has to learn what it means to do so at roughly the same time as he/she/they are actually remembering. If the academic study of religion–in using memory as a tool, supposing facts to be self-evident, asserting truths, and describing previous and current ideas of humanity and God–forget the subject matter at hand in the manipulation of information, then the sometimes-present spirit of technocratic professionalism has played it pretty roughly. Without a sense of the history of ideas as well as the consciousness of historical dialogue, each scholar’s work can only become disconnected and airy, narcissistic and atemporal, leaving out too much of the lived experience and realities that can’t bow down to universal claims.

It is because scholars of religion must themselves wrestle with the “big” questions, (i.e., what it means to be human, how meaning and ultimate concerns are constructed and why) that they can be at all qualified to examine how others did and do so. Imagination and good scholarship, like a good poem, suppose a common ground, that of language as experience. When the history of the reception of ideas and their effects begins to obscure the claim of the idea, it is the scholar’s job to reconstruct what went wrong and present a new interpretation with the integrity appropriate to serious discussion.

The finitude of understanding is never overcome, but students of religion can re-perform or re-tell insights to give them better light. It is an art to learn to take a claim seriously and to restructure your presuppositions based on a recognition of the truth of that claim. It is not an art that is commonly taught, but it is an art indispensable to the study of religion. The opposition inherent in an exploration of the alien, especially as regards the normative claims made in religious texts, requires a way to create bonds that become productive and constructive of new meaning that better “speaks” to an audience that can be very culturally removed from an original text. Hermeneutic understanding does not stipulate the end of imaginative endeavors in the interest of consensus. Rather, it is a way to bring some measure of consensus of meaning into scholarship, despite its ever-incompleteness.

References:

Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method
Paul Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Social Sciences

Please, J.K. Rowling, More Stories

The current Harry Potter moviefest that I’m enjoying with my son has inspired me to make a request of J.K. Rowling. I love these stores – we’ve read all the books multiple times – because they give me hope. It’s just that simple. They give me hope.

So, I navigated over to her website at http://www.jkrowling.com and – sure, why not? – clicked on the contact link.

The Blair Partnership represents J.K. Rowling internationally and across all media. Please direct any queries to info@theblairpartnership.com and a member of the team will be in touch directly. J.K. Rowling very rarely does interviews or public speaking, and when she does they are usually around a new project or charitable commitment. Please note that she does not undertake fee-paying public speaking engagements. Because of the huge volume of requests coming in, J.K. Rowling also regrets she is unable to…

Yada yada yada. Well, ok, fair enough. I sent the following email, but just in case there isn’t any analysis or reporting of the communications, I’m also posting it here. You never know, maybe they do some version of web analytics, social media harvest, or even a Net Promoter Score (put me in the “I would definitively recommend” bucket).

To Whom it May Concern:

I am aware that the illustrious J.K. Rowling could not possibly respond to the billions of her readers, but I am hoping that you maintain some sort of thematic statistics for her.

If so, may I add to the numbers of those who pray that she considers creating more stories that work at multiple levels for children and adults alike? I pray for very few things.

There are so very few such nourishing narratives that do (or can) burst into our mainstream cultures as they exist today. In the Potter books (and films – one must include the films) human complexity is better grasped in these contexts that show how important existential choices are (whether or not someone has quite enough information, whether or not situations are fair, whether or not you think anything you do will make a difference to yourself or anyone else). The stories allow us to feel (with the very deepest of empathy and intuition) compassion and pity and courage and friendship and trust and even alienation. That they do so with a marvelous reinvention of all the long-standing traditions of literature, fairy tale, and even institutional satire gives incredible depth to the world she crafted and creates the speculative but nuanced expansion of imagination that used to be the basis of all liberal education.

In short, the Potter stories give me hope during what I consider to be rather dark times.

My son Ben (now 12) has grown up with the Potter story. It has given us so many opportunities to discuss life’s issues and mysteries in a common language. I can tell you – definitively – that navigating the terrain of the characters and story have made a significant difference to his own evolving character and intellectual/creative/spiritual development. He understands being true to himself, and the meaning of friendship, and the gifts of love, awareness, grace, support. He has internal reference points for things that are difficult to articulate, but can be recognized. And he doesn’t simplify into simple dualities and sound bites. He learns to ask better questions. Thank you for this gift to my son, and to me, and to all the others, everywhere.

I love the woman of her personal history and of her effects in the world, but please – more stories. The world so desperately needs them.

Pre-Election Roundup

Some various items from the last few weeks…

World Poll: Strongly Favors Barack Obama – Only Pakistan’s respondents said they would prefer to see Mitt Romney win November’s election.

THE CHOICE: The New Yorker’s Endorsement of Barack Obama

Politifact Truth-o-Meter

How U.S. Stimulus Bested U.K. Austerity

Sorry, U.S. Recoveries Really Aren’t Different

Team Romney still fighting arithmetic

The Plutocracy Will Go to Extremes to Keep the 1% in Control

Bork? Bolton? 9 Romney Advisers You Need to Know About

‘Moderate Mitt': Neocon Trojan Horse

Under Romney’s Plan, US Auto Makers Would Have Died

Romney & Company Shipped Every Single Delphi UAW Job to China

Mormon Mitt in Bed with Big Tobacco

Inside Bain’s Chinese Sensata Factories, Where Workers Put in 12-Hour Days for $.99-$1.35 an Hour

Employees of Romney Family’s Secret Bank Tied to Fraud, Money Laundering and Drug Cartels

Romney Lied in Court And Then Screwed Over His Friend’s Wife During Nasty Divorce With Staples Founder

Romney Supports Welfare – For Corporations

GOP Platform Calls for Nuking What’s Left of McCain-Feingold Law

Romney Cites Study Based On Repealing Almost All Middle Class Tax Breaks To Bolster His Tax Plan

Gender Inequality Map – Women in Utah have it the worst. There, the average working woman makes 55 cents for every dollar the average working man makes.

Marco Rubio Helps Demonstrate that the GOP Simply Opposes Paying Women Fairly

GOP Rep. Tells Employers To Intimidate Their Workers Into Voting For Romney

Faith Leaders Condemn GOP Senate Candidate’s Statement That Rape Pregnancies Are A ‘Gift From God’

Court Requires Disabled Rape Victim To Prove She Resisted

Pennsylvania Bill Would Reduce Welfare Benefits For Women Who Cannot Prove They Were Raped

GOP Congressman Says Abortion Is Never Necessary To Save A Woman’s Life

“LOVE PATRIARCHALISM”—ITS UNDERSIDE IS HATE by Carol P. Christ

Anti-Choicers Show Their True Colors

Did the Climate Deniers Win?

Palin, Trump continue to lead right-wing hate party against Obama

With ‘Dreams From My Real Father,’ Have Obama Haters Hit Rock Bottom?

Ayn Rand Would Be Proud: Soup Kitchen in Paul Ryan’s Photo Op Loses Funds, Gets Attacked By Conservative Trolls

Maryland pastor tells anti-gay group: LGBT people are ‘worthy of death’

Missouri Pastor Goes Viral on Gawker: Separation of Church and Hate

Paul Broun: Evolution, Big Bang ‘Lies Straight From The Pit Of Hell’ – Broun is a high-ranking member of the House Science Committee, of which Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) is also a member.

Tea Party Voter Suppression Group Under Investigation

Clear Channel takes down voter fraud billboards – The anonymous sponsor of the ads is still unknown. Clear Channel Outdoor is affiliated with Clear Channel Communications, which is majority-owned by private equity firms Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners.

FBI Investigating Hoax Letters to Voters in Florida

Ohio county sends voters wrong election date, directions to polls

Third instance of Republican voter registration dumping found in Virginia

Virginia AG won’t investigate GOP worker who dumped voter registration forms

Department of Justice: Investigate Tagg Romney owning voting machine in Ohio

Georgia Charter Schools, Amendment 1 (2012) – Vote No!

Georgia Multi-Year Rental Agreements, Amendment 2 (2012) – Vote No!

These aren’t REAL reasons to dislike Mitt Romney? Part I

Another day, another whisper campaign. I received this somewhat sarcastic email “Top Ten Reasons to Dislike Mitt Romney” from one of the usual places. To the person who sent this to me: I forgive you for trying to provoke me with things like this. You’ve given me the gift of a blog post topic.

The idea of the piece is to present a rebuttal to people who might not think Mitt Romney is all that likeable (including some who might – gasp – support Barack Obama!). It suggests that the “media” is misleading you about his “likability.” Keep that in mind as you judge the merits of the argument for yourself. Check in with your own intuition too – do you find him likable?

It is both amusing and disheartening to read some of the comments from some people who don’t even grasp the sarcastic undercurrent. “What’s wrong with having no scandals? Why does having sons with no prison record make him unlikable?” Seriously?

Here’s my take on what is, at least, an opinion piece intended to sway you.  I’ve spared you the huge red fugly font of the email.

 

A lot is being said in the media about Mitt Romney not being “likable” or that he doesn’t “relate well” to people. Frankly, we struggled to understand why. So after much research, we have come up with a Top Ten List to explain this “unlikablility.”

We”? Who is this “we”? Research?

Top Ten Reasons To Dislike Mitt Romney:

1. Handsome with gracious, statesmanlike aura. Looks like every central casting’s #1 choice for Commander-in-Chief.

The alignment of the presidential role with a particular appearance is interesting. Whatever do you mean? Does the Commander-in-Chief have to be real white and male, awkward and snobby? He has the commanding presence of a Gerald Ford and the grace of a John Kerry, or is it the other way around? As long as he doesn’t speak to people, I guess you could argue that he looks the part that some would sterotype as a “central casting” choice for President, if you like that combed-back Vitalis look.

But cast your mind back, and compare/contrast with some that were actually cast as President:

2. Been married to ONE woman his entire life, and has been faithful to her, including through her bouts with breast cancer and MS.

He was married when still a child, his entire life? Only kidding.

Each man should be assessed for his own decisions and actions, and Mitt seems to have been faithful to and supportive of Ann. The repercussions would be severe for him if he weren’t, especially as a Bishop within a very anti-divorce subculture that views marriage itself as well as divorce in a very unusual way.

When talking of a Mormon, you might avoid putting ONE in all caps like that. Better not to call attention to the fact that polygamy used to be a big part of the culture, and in some scions of that group, still is. To be fair, both Romney and Obama have a family branch involving polygamy. Mitt’s own father even had his own “birther” controversy.

While it’s all good that the Romney marriage has appeared to be stable, the Republicans, even most of the so-called “religious right,” seemed to have little problem supporting men like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich while denouncing a sitting President who has been faithful and loving to his wife and family.

So it’s really a matter of priorities, isn’t it?

3. No scandals or skeletons in his closet. (How boring is that?)

Really? You’re not counting his sexy fugitive great-grandfather, tracked by federal marshals as he tried to plant polygamy throughout the Southwest? Whatever you want to say about that, it’s not boring. Can’t talk at all about the story of Mitt’s father, a Mexican-born child of American citizens who became Governor of Michigan and was able to run for the Republican nomination for President in 1968 despite his support for civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam War? He seems interesting.

No? Just Bishop Willard Mitt, named for hotel magnate J. Willard Marriot, huh? Well, if you insist.

Here’s a few, or just look at his record as Governor of Massachusetts and draw your own conclusions. You could look at where he claimed residency, for example.

4. Can’t speak in a fake, southern,”black preacher voice” when necessary.

Wow – that took a turn.

Maybe you’re underestimating Mitt – has he tried? He has the background as a Bishop, so he’s the actual preacher. I for one would love to see footage of some of his sermons.

What exactly is being implied here against Barack Obama? When exactly has that occurred, and why would the writer think it be “necessary”? What is being emphasized, and what reaction is intended from the reader?

5. Highly intelligent. Graduated cum laude from both Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School …and by the way, his academic records are NOT sealed.

Sure, Mitt is a smart guy. So is Obama. I think we’re (at least temporarily) past an attraction for dim presidential candidates, right? Um, right? Right?

No other presidential candidate but Barack Obama has ever been asked to prove fitness to serve by releasing academic records – or a birth certificate, for that matter. Along with the usual slurs about not being a “real” American – questioning his religion and his patriotism – this is intended to imply that there’s some sort of problem with his credentials.

It’s not true that Mitt Romney has released his academic transcripts, nor is that the norm. He went to Cranbrook School (a private boys’ academy), Stanford University (for only a year), Brigham Young University, and Harvard University Law School/Harvard University Business School. For what it’s worth, I did find one report card obtained by a Boston newspaper reflecting one stage of Mitt’s earlier schooling, but I’m willing to grant some slack. Mitt Romney was really only interested in business, but his father had advised him that a law degree would be valuable to his career so he enrolled at the newly-created four-year joint Juris Doctor/Master of Business Administration program coordinated between Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School – that part is true. By the time Romney arrived at Harvard, his father had run a major corporation, been elected three times as Michigan’s governor, been a presidential nominee, and was serving as a US Cabinet secretary.

Speaking as a former academic here, I don’t think Barack Obama had the same kind of social advantage or class advantage that Romney had. I also find it a little hard to believe that he didn’t have to have a pretty stellar academic record to be the president of the Harvard Law Review.

6. Doesn’t smoke or drink alcohol, and has never done drugs, not even in the counter-culture age when he went to college. Too square for today’s America?

Oh, he’s square all right, but probably not too much so for a lot of Americans. His contradictory statements on topics such as Vietnam suggest that he didn’t really “catch the drift” of his generation’s concerns. Mitt only went to Stanford for a year, then took deferments against the draft to go to France and be a missionary (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57449254/at-stanford-romney-got-his-bearings-in-a-year-of-change): “In July of 1966, the same month he left for France to serve his mission, the Selective Service granted Romney a 4-D categorization as a “minister of religion or divinity student.” This deferment status was controversial at the time, as critics argued that it allowed young Mormon men to avoid the draft disproportionately. The practice of granting 4-D deferments to Mormons for the purpose of serving their missions sparked a federal lawsuit by non-Mormons in Utah, and the LDS Church eventually cut down on the number of missionaries it permitted to receive 4-D status.”

But hey – good for him for not getting into addictive behaviors centered on drug use. He had a lot of support for that decision from the very strict LDS (Mormon) restrictions on such matters. I would think that setting a good example to his newly-converted fiancé back in the day might have also been a motivation – but that’s just speculation.

7. Represents an America of “yesterday”, where people believed in God, went to Church, didn’t screw around, worked hard, and became a SUCCESS!

Wow – the golden age fallacy – it always strikes a nerve, doesn’t it?

Maybe the word “yesterday” is in scare quotes for an actual reason? This so-called “yesterday” – when is it? Which people? When?

Are we talking about that “yesterday” when people from a privileged background didn’t have an advantage? The time when everyone agreed on religion? The age when life was fair? Or an archetypal fantasy from childhood, when life seemed less complicated because, well, you were a child? Do some research and tell me when this golden age existed.

From the other side, are there no Americans who believe in God or go to church (assuming for a moment that this a measure of goodness)? Depending on whether you’re talking about infidelity or laziness, are there no hard workers left, no faithful spouses anywhere?

And – is there an implied claim that there are no Americans who take profit without work, or who suffer from lack of opportunity? On what basis does each community and each individual measure success?

When I think about a world of Rockwell paintings, it creeps me out.

I don’t see the obvious connection between Mitt Romney and a work ethic, especially in any way that Barack Obama’s biography does not meet or exceed. To my mind, Barack’s story is much closer to the American Dream narrative – it’s even pretty close to that rare Horatio Alger story.  This email aims to work with the resentment that many working people have toward the unemployed, and it also carries some resonance to previous demonizing and scapegoating propaganda campaigns.

Read some history, especially actual stories of people’s lives in America and elsewhere, for an antidote to this kind of thinking.

8. Has a family of five great sons….and none of them have police records or are in drug rehab. But of course, they were raised by a stay-at-home mom, and that “choice” deserves America ‘s scorn.

Hold me down. Seriously. This one is just ridiculously obnoxious.

Let’s start with this cause-effect correlation between working moms and the criminality and drug use of their offspring. How dare you! So is this email aimed just at men? Where was that study showing the connection again? See how insidious this kind of thing can be? What do *you* think is the subtext here? What is being implied?

There’s nothing wrong with moms either choosing to work or choosing to stay at home, but there are actual economic concerns here. Many American moms don’t have much of a “choice” – either for reasons of community, religion or economics – but to stay at home. Many American moms don’t have access to millions of dollars that free them from worry about how their children will be fed, clothed, educated and housed. Most moms, even moms who have good jobs and/or are married to someone with a good income, are not free from the anxiety that they might lose their health benefits or financial security (as a result of companies that reap profits even when jobs are closed down, for instance). Most moms don’t have to worry about their Olympic horse’s dressage event either, so maybe it all evens out.

But it’s really a very good thing for a president to hear, to listen, and to care about a range of American experience, so as to make decisions that will most benefit all the people, not just the few.

Mitt and Ann Romney do have five grown sons (as well as a number of grandchildren):  Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben, and Craig. It looks probable that they don’t have police records or drug abuse issues. Tagg Romney is a Managing Partner at Solamere Capital who co-founded the company and has previously worked as Chief Marketing Officer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, VP of onfield marketing at Reebok, and Director of Strategic Planning at Elan Pharmaceuticals. Tagg founded and subsequently sold Season Perks. Tagg worked for each of his father’s three political campaigns, and worked as a consultant at Monitor Group and McKinsey and Co. Tagg has a BA in Economics from Brigham Young University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Matt Romney works as VP of Strategy and Investments at Excel Realty Holdings. He was previously a Project Manager for Microsoft Corporation and held marketing and project management positions for Polaroid Corporation and Lavastorm, Inc. Matt received a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Harvard Business School and a Bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University. Josh Romney is a Real Estate Developer and owner of Romney Ventures and previous Acquisition Analyst for Intercontinental Real Estate. He is also an advisor to Utah Governor Gary Herbert, and helped his dad with the 2008 Presidential Campaign. He also got his BA from Brigham Young University and his MBA from Harvard Business School. Ben Romney is a Medical Student who also got his Bachelors Degree from Brigham Young University. Craig is an Advertising Music Producer who also got his Bachelors Degree from Brigham Young University. None has served in the military, but they probably all did their stints as Mormon missionaries and Romney claims they served their country by helping him.

Barack and Michelle Obama have two young daughters: Malia Ann was born on July 4, 1998, and Natasha (known as Sasha), was born on June 10, 2001. Sasha is the youngest child to reside in the White House since John F. Kennedy, Jr. arrived as an infant in 1961. Girls are good too, right?  Or not?

9. Oh yes…..he’s a MORMON. We need to be very afraid of that very strange religion that teaches its members to be clean-living, patriotic, fiscally conservative, charitable, self-reliant, and honest.

Ask around in Utah, and perhaps among some former Mormons, about that. But – live and let live.

I believe in the constitutional rights of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, and the closer we stick to this very American value, the better off both the state and church are.  The Church of Latter-Day Saints does have significant weirdness, but so do many other religious groups. I would think that the discomfort level would be higher among very conservative christian groups, many of whom do not consider Mormons to be real Christians, so this might be a bit of damage control.

More Americans know that Romney is Mormon than can correctly identify President Obama as Christian (49%).

Although most Americans say it is important for a president to have strong religious beliefs, party affiliation ― rather than religion ― drives voter preferences. It’s a matter of priorities, right?

Among Americans who know Romney’s religion, 6 in 10 say they are comfortable with it. Republicans (68%) are more likely than Independents (62%) and Democrats (51%) to express comfort with Romney’s religious affiliation. But nearly one in four white evangelicals say they are uncomfortable with Romney’s Mormonism, higher than any other religious group except atheists/agnostics (30%). The percentage of Americans who know that Obama is a Christian has increased from 38 to 49 percent since 2010, but there has been little change in the percentage who mistakenly believe that he is Muslim (19% in 2010; 17% in 2012). Perceptions of Obama’s faith fall into partisan camps: Nearly a third of Republicans believe that Obama is Muslim, compared to 16% independents and 8% of Democrats. Just 7% of Democrats and liberal-leaning Americans have concerns about Obama’s faith (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/poll-romney-may-see-an-evangelical-enthusiasm-gap/2012/07/26/gJQAitt5BX_story.html)

For myself, I would have liked to see Romney make some statement, like John F. Kennedy did, about the difference between personal beliefs and governing all Americans.

10. And one more point…..pundits say because of his wealth, he can’t relate to ordinary Americans. I guess that’s because he made that money HIMSELF…..as opposed to marrying it or inheriting it from Dad. Apparently, he didn’t understand that actually working at a job and earning your own money made you unrelatable to Americans.

You guess? It’s not apparent, and… well…. Sigh…  The bulk of his wealth came from capital gains, not salary or actual income, and much of it is sheltered outside the country. Is that “working at a job” in any sense that you as the reader can relate to, outside of your lottery-winning fantasy? There are some aspects that emerge in his comments that show that he is pretty out of touch, yes.  All that (and there’s a lot of all that) aside, it’s not the money that actually makes him unlikeable – it’s something far more important.

But that’s more than enough for today. To be continued…

Update: Or not. There will be no Part II. That’s enough for smart people to continue with their own thoughts…

End of a Friendship

I’m rather down today after formally ending a friendship that went all the way back to childhood. Normally, I would feel it was better to simply fade away, but in this case I felt I had to draw a very clear line. After a couple of attempts to try to maintain the friendship despite our deepening differences, there was a online conversation back and forth about a news story that troubled me. The way the comments were framed, the information that had to be ignored to do so, the transparent rhetorical strategy – all of it illustrated a deeply problematic character in her husband. My intuition was screaming alert.

I did some research. In doing so, I came across a truckload of information that made the friendship impossible to continue, and even made me wonder if there had ever really been a friend there at all. Just following the thread of this one person through the maze brought a deeper level of understanding about how certain things are structured right now in this country of ours. I feel like I had a brush with the-opposite-of-greatness. Horrible. It’s not that I didn’t already have some indication that her husband was a bit of a jerk, but I was able to put it off to differences in political opinion and in “I guess you had to be there” allowances – for as long as I didn’t have too many details. As a last gesture of honor toward our shared past, I won’t illustrate with all the links, and funding sources, and results. Over time, I’m sure others will do so, and in ways more effective (I hope) than anything that I could do. History will be the judge.

I have no idea what could have possessed the person I thought I knew to drink the kool-aid on these matters, not only politically but also in terms of some rather basic ethics. I’m bewildered and deeply disappointed. The girl I knew could have chosen any path. What an incredible waste. How could she have sunk so low?

Dear X – This isn’t about the back and forth on the dueling couple, but the responses I saw troubled me in a number of different ways. I’ve had a bad feeling for a while, really ever since I saw your husband disallow you from eating some dish at the reunion. I knew he was a right-wing academic, but I also knew that you guys had supported Y in his music – and figured that he must have another side to him. Yes, we disagree on politics, but our friendship is more important – I let it go.

Until now, I really didn’t understand the level of corruption that was possible to maintain while still claiming an academic position. It would be one thing if the problem were merely a set of political differences, as I thought. Unfortunately what I’m seeing is much, much more than that. It’s amazing what you can find when you have a thread to follow. I wrote about seven pages last night detailing it, but you’re an intelligent woman and I have to conclude that you not only know but also approve.

I actually believe in intellectual integrity, and don’t think that universities should be the location for sham research, paid-for-comment faculty, and political think-tanks – but rather for independent research that is peer-reviewed. I have no idea how you could have married someone who actually specializes in undermining academic integrity and in the distortion of public information, and who is part of the corruption of the political process for private gain (regardless of citizen/consumer rights or protections, regardless of casualties). I’m not just theoretically opposed to the content, but I actually consider this to be unethical – even criminal – behavior, and want nothing to do with it in any way.

I can’t see a way to justify trying to maintain a friendship with someone who obviously participates in – and approves of – all the corrupt practices and money trails I’ve discovered. I hope that at least your chosen path has brought you something that you wanted badly enough to justify it to yourself.

I’ll just remember you as the talented, intelligent and graceful girl I once knew, and grieve for her. Further communications from either of you are not welcome.

Goodbye, X.

So now it’s done, and I feel like it was just the first step in a process of disentanglement for me. Do I have any white sage? I actually feel – somehow – tainted. I know that people change, and that there are always existential choices to be made. I’ve made mistakes myself. Perhaps I’m still making them. I try to have a caring center and to offer compassion to others. But there’s a limit, and this is toxic at a level that I haven’t been this close to before.

I don’t hate my old friend. I don’t even hate her horrible and corrupt husband. But I won’t allow that kind of thing to be part of my life, nor part of my personal set of friends and associates. I can’t live with this knowledge and still call her “friend.”

Corruption and fraud in the cause of greed can succeed for a while, but it will always be discovered and judged, even if it takes a hundred years. Those who participate in it still have to live with the knowledge of the hurt they’ve caused, the casualties of their destructiveness. Deep down, we all know the truth of it. I see the causes, the studies for hire, the interests behind all this. It sickens me.

So long, farewell, Auf wiedersehen… good-bye.

The Changing View of God’s Will – or Witches and Doctors and Priests, Oh My

“You have no power here! Begone! – before someone drops a house on you too!”

Long, long ago there were healing women, women wise with the knowledge of herbs, of sound and smell and taste, of birthing and guidance and support. Their various mindsets are probably not ones that we can fully understand or inhabit today, although an undeniable hunger for their possible stories is evident in our fictions. History may be written by the winners, but speculative imagination is open to all.

Such women had an important role in small communities, until their role was re-interpreted. A strong patriarchal movement, armed with the authority of a monotheistic God, saw women with any sort of power as a threat. Their own stories cast women as inferior and sinful and subordinate to men. Women were no longer allowed to own their own land, and their bodies were to be thought of – and treated accordingly – as property. Powerful women, women with any sort of unapproved education, were to be disempowered: by making them seem subhuman (and/or superhuman), by cutting off ties to their kinship networks, and by casting doubts on their existential right to exist, such that communities would feel that it was wrong to “consort” with them. Women, and especially intelligent women, became the enemy (All our “wars” do the same thing – “othering” the human as less-than-human).

The outcast has power, too, of a sort, but after such events as the Inquisition and the infamous Witch Hunts, the burnings at the stake (how much worse than a crucifixion), the drownings of “water tests” and the like, much of the understanding and knowledge that might have been accessed later – through whatever methods of succession they might have had – was probably lost. Women seeking to reclaim the figure of the goddess, latter-day herbalists, Wiccans and witches, and all the overlapping seekers who blend them and other perspectives in their own attempts to balance the spirit, all have in common a yearning for the denied and nearly exterminated appreciation of the female principle, whatever that might look like. Because of this yearning, and the inherent oppositional and defensive position, there is sometimes a reversion to awkward and unfair gender binaries, but how can there be spiritual balance and integration and movement of all, even now, when male and female have been out of touch for so long and in such alienating ways?

I start with the ancient healing woman who became cast in the role of the witch because I don’t think we’ve come to terms with gender, knowledge, and healing. Our cures are poisons, our poisons are cures. It’s all in the amount, it’s all in discernment, it’s all in complexity. It’s hard to convey, and our stories are inadequate. Our mythos doesn’t function. Our logos is a weapon. And so, the vision of the ancient woman is a comfort to me. It carries things that cannot be conveyed otherwise, like music does. Like art.

Spiritual traditions, despite their wings of the horrible, all have a heart, no matter how it might be eclipsed, in the love and compassion that is the wellspring of all insight and communion. Every sacred book has its wisdom in this deep truth, no matter how its other pages may incite cruelty. It is the choice of each community and of each person to decide whether to take the paragraphs of the ancient libraries as an excuse for their dark side to oppress and to kill, or to read them as stories that illustrate the truth of the dangers of the human soul, in order to propel consciousness into a different space – the space of empathy, and discernment. Perhaps there’s more than one reason that you never hear the story from the point of view of the Canaanite.

Science and medicine have had moments of confrontation with religious communities – even when they have been members themselves. I think of Galileo, Mendel and Darwin – all of whom proposed understandings that seemed to undermine established teachings and were seen as a threat. On the other hand, the churches have had times of amazing institutional support – founding universities, building and supporting hospitals. The religious world is not monolithic of course, but eventually it seems that scientific discoveries are incorporated into religious understandings in some way – and the hanging sense that religious views don’t change is an illusion. The very existence of all the subgroups and diverse views among just the American protestant wing of the christian religion exemplify that, but even the more ancient religions include a spectrum of views, ranging across flavors militant, orthodox, literal, evangelist, conservative, scholarly, social-activist, meditative, welcoming. To me, the religious brand is less important than this kind of sub-grouping. From what I can tell, the fanatical haters are much the same across all religions, as are the compassionate lovers.

If God’s will is understood as something that is so fragile as to be easily undermined by human knowledge, things get dark. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity” as the poet W.B. Yeats succinctly put it. Those who believe they are representing God’s will seek to impose it as though it required their assistance. In this view, there is suspicion towards the cosmos, and paranoia about non-members.

If God’s will is understood more as “how it’s going to be” regardless of human decision, free will and action, then that is not threatened by much of anything, much less by better understanding our universe and our own niche within it. In this view, there is trust in the cosmos, and acceptance of both our sufferings and our various beings – whether in the form of women, of doctors – whether in extending the life of the aged, or by treating addiction or depression or a heart condition, or using birth control to better plan for thriving families. How do we know God’s will isn’t for humans to learn to make better decisions? Jesus was a healer. There is no reason in this perspective not to try, and no reason to throw away the gifts that we have been given.

If people believe both these at once, or in a syncopated rhythm, then odd things start to happen. They sometimes take on the role of God for others. Preachers and politicians believe that they speak for God. Doctors become arrogant, scientists mistake the model for the reality, communities project both good and evil onto the “what is” such that they cannot accept either the strengths or the weaknesses of science and medicine and religion and politics. Science becomes another “faith” and scientific method is considered discardable – or science becomes a perfect totality rather than a self-correcting and evolving set of theories (narratives that attempt to explain replicable experimental results). Religion inserts itself as scientific description and loses the deeper truths of its narratives. Some people become fearful and defensive, others violent. Lies become more acceptable. Truths lose the “scene” in which they have meaning, and are used as weapons.

H.L. Mencken describes the “inferior man” as one who (among other things) lives in fear: “The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear – fear of the unknown, the complex, and the inexplicable.” Such a man – or woman – will always fear anyone that that is perceived as different. He/she feels others must be dominated, controlled, and forced to be predictable, to follow commands, so that his/her own inferiority remains concealed, even from himself or herself. I was careful here to include both genders, but…

It’s especially disheartening to me that many women can’t see the various attempts to put women back in the box for what they are, but I have hope and confidence because of the many women (and men!) who observe injustice and who work, each in their own way, to be themselves and to encourage others. I think that despite our regressions here, we will continue to move ahead – onwards and upwards. We could have been much more. Maybe we still will be.

In some ways, it all goes back to how comfortable a community is with the idea that humans are allowed to explore knowledge, to ask questions, and to act on their current understandings. Some seem complacent about having knowledge of good and evil – or at least their internal definitions of such are rarely questioned – but the return of the repressed haunts them. Who do they have to control to maintain their community? Are women who use birth control witches? Sluts? Good way to rein them in, but go big! Shouldn’t insurance companies control them? Shouldn’t employers tightly define coverage?

But why should an employer define coverage for a person on “moral grounds”? What a nasty mess. First of all – the implicit ideology that it implies – that the worker has taken the previous role of the woman-as-property – is about the best evidence for the reality of the class war (and the rise of the dominionist theocrats) that I’ve seen. Beyond that, if you know anything about the extremes of non-intervention against a fixed idea of “God’s will,” you are aware of the many deaths resulting from refusing blood transfusions, and from childbirth, and from replacing medical treatment with prayer, and – in extreme cases – all of the injuries and deaths resulting from various pathologies centered on delusions about what God might want someone to do or not do (assuming for a moment that all claims about God are not delusional or at least inadequate). All armies claim that God is on their side, after all, don’t they? As George Carlin noted, someone has got to be wrong. Could it be – ALL of them?

Suppose your insurance company or business is owned by someone who thinks that your health issue is a punishment from God, and that in his/her/their judgment you don’t deserve treatment? Do you honestly believe this wouldn’t happen? We can vote with our feet by not working for such employers – if we’re in a position to do so – not everyone is. Over half this country is currently living in poverty, or very close to it. The “job creators” are still much more likely to skim the profits off the top and take them off to the Caymans, or Dubai, or to invest in global pursuits outside the American economy. In America, consumer rights across the board is the only fair position. If a religious community doesn’t want members of their flock to use science – however the subset of “wrong” medicine and science is currently defined, let them convince each to their own conscience. Sure, some will be condemned to an early and perhaps unjustified death, but at least then it was their own choice.

The roles of doctor and priest and priestess and healer and witch are intertwined. Each uses psychology. There are placebo effects. There is authority, and there is scapegoating. Sometimes overblown claims about power take hold, and abuses are legion. But each also draws on the will of the wounded, the will to live, the will to heal.

Perhaps each could help the other because of this, if they ever would. If healing has physical and spiritual aspects, and if psychology helps, and if there are different constellations of knowledge with overlapping themes and recurring narratives, maybe science can learn to tell better stories, maybe religious groups can embrace the totality of the human to a better spirit, maybe there can be better integration, better education, better cooperation, to promote the general welfare for the betterment of all.

But the power corruption is deep, deep, deep. I don’t forget the witches burning, the lynchings and the attempted genocides, especially when I read the comments of our contemporary brownshirts, fascists, and inquisitors, our bigots, our smug self-righteous, our haters.

I stand against the haters, in the way of the statue crying. It is almost impossibly sad. The utter, utter waste of it. The ignorance and greed and insecurity that it represents is such a huge loss to us all.

We’ve all come a long way, baby. Women and men, of all religions and races and kinds. But the backlash is severe.

In politics, the framing is always about our choice – but the choice is deeper than who we think might be best at representing our country’s values or our interests. The choice is really much more about who we choose to be – given our scientific knowledge, our spiritual path, our understanding of the human, our hopes for the future. Do we bother to seek a deeper understanding? Are we more comfortable with being told who we are and what God expects us to do, or not do, or do we see the acts of questioning about our meaning and constructing our character as life’s continuing project? Are we arrogant and oppressive and destructive, or are we working alone and together to try to make our communities, our nation, and our world a better place for thriving? For…all…the people.

When the healers and the knowers and the questioners become the enemy, it’s a dark dark place to live. That’s why I light a candle, and write, and smell the flowers, and commune with the trees – in hopes that a slight echo might come back across the ethereal plane to give me strength. Perhaps in turn my little spark might help to jump the gap in our country’s synapses, and echo forward to our daughters and sons of the future.

Think deeply, and just as hard as you can. Appreciate. Pay attention. Ask questions. Love.

Americans Who Betray the Most Basic American Values

Listen up, you so-called Patriots. Any power interest that dehumanizes other Americans, other people, IS THE BAD GUY. What does it take for you to understand that?

I’m getting very tired of receiving hate propaganda in my email. The latest bit followed the predictable pattern – taking one small fact and spinning it to appeal to the dark side of the reader. In 2009, President Obama appointed two highly-qualified people to important posts. Today, in 2012, I get an email called “Wolves Will Be Herding the Sheep.”

The email in question even had its own links to Snopes and to the official announcement, but most people are too lazy to look. They just look at the commentary:

Well, boys and girls, today the fox is guarding the hen house. The wolves will be herding the sheep!
Obama appointed two devout Muslims to homeland security posts. Obama and Janet Napolitano appointed Arif Alikhan, a devout Muslim, as Assistant Secretary for Policy Development. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano swore-in Kareem Shora, a devout Muslim, who was born in Damascus, Syria, as ADC National Executive Director as a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC).
NOTE: Has anyone ever heard a new government official being identified as a ‘devout Catholic,” a “devout Jew” or a “devout Protestant”…? Just wondering.
Devout Muslims being appointed to critical Homeland Security positions? Doesn’t this make you feel safer already?? That should make our home land much safer, huh!?
Wasn’t it “devout Muslim men” who flew planes into U.S. buildings 10 years ago? Wasn’t it a “devout Muslim man” who killed 13 at Fort Hood ?
Please forward this important information to any who cares about the future of our Country.

To me, this is so obvious as to not need explaining, but obviously there are some very, very misled or very, very stupid people in this country, because this stuff – that seems so transparent- actually seems to work. These are Americans, highly qualified Americans, who were appointed to these posts, and for good reasons – not that it was even enough to prevent the use of hate flicks for training.

This message is hateful and more importantly, inaccurate. By the way, if we really expect to deal with ANY extremists, including the Hatriot movement or the dominionist “Christian” theocrats or groups like the KKK, we’ve got to learn that appealing to the darkness – through generalizing, scapegoating, fear mongering, or any other dehumanizing effort is wrong. It’s more than wrong. It’s the E word.

America is not at war with Islam. Or with Christianity. But you know, in every religion and in every country and in every large group there seems to be a subset of people who hate, who dehumanize others, who flip logic to manipulate people, and who have little to no capacity for kindness, caring or dialogue. They only care about power, authority, and control. These groups have created centuries of misery, and they make a mockery of the ideals of their religion, country, or the group’s reason for being. You will know them by their fruits. But false prophets always seem to be able to mislead large crowds, no matter what country or century they happen to be operating in.

Do people not understand the idea of America? Do they not understand that this mistake is fatal to the spirit of this country? We absolutely cannot dehumanize other people. Have we learned nothing from our own mistakes, not to mention the history of the word? The Hatriot movement and the dominionist theocrats are the mirror image of the other extremists around the world.

It’s extremely lazy and extremely dangerous to generalize from singular people or events to an entire religion, or country, or race, or class.

Anyone who insinuates that a group is subhuman – then tries to claim that it’s American to think so – is not a friend of America.

Don’t be fooled. I pray you’re better than that. I pray more of our countrymen and countrywomen come to their senses soon.

I’ve given up on trying to explain anything to the contemporary brownshirts. So many have gone past the point of reason or teaching or dialogue. It’s reached a tipping point – they’re gone. A saint would keep trying, but I’m no saint. All I can do anymore is to grieve the reality. May the universe have mercy on their souls.

Be careful out there.

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