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Sky Dance

This timelapse video shows the two minutes of darkness caused by the total solar eclipse in Tórshavn, Faroe Islands on March 20, 2015
Song: The 126ers – Water Lily

Watch highlights from the solar eclipse as seen from Newquay in Cornwall, from Svalbard in Norway and the Faroe Islands.

Professor Brian Cox, Dara O’Briain and Liz Bonnin bring us coverage of the solar eclipse from http://www.bbc.co.uk/stargazing.

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

Love Powerfully

Rereading some Martin Buber today, in celebration and gratitude.

‎Every morning
I shall concern myself anew about the boundary
Between the love-deed-Yes and the power-deed-No
And pressing forward honor reality.
We cannot avoid
Using power,
Cannot escape the compulsion
To afflict the world,
So let us, cautious in diction
And mighty in contradiction,
Love powerfully.

~ Martin Buber, “Power and Love” (1926)

Excerpt from Martin Buber, “I and Thou”

(trans. by Walter Kaufmann, 1970)

The world is twofold for man in accordance with his twofold attitude.

The attitude of man is twofold in accordance with the two basic words he can speak.

The basic words are not single words but word pairs.

One basic word is the word pair I-You.

The other basic word is the word pair I-It; but this basic word is not changed when He or She takes the place of It.

Thus the I of man is also twofold.

For the I of the basic word I-You is different from that of the basic word I-It.

*

Basic words do not state something that might exist outside them; by being spoken they establish a mode of existence.

Basic words are spoken with one’s being.

When one says You, the I of the word pair I-You is said, too.

When one says It, the I of the word pair I-It is said, too.

The basic word I-You can only be spoken with one’s whole being.

The basic word I-It can never be spoken with one’s whole being.

*

There is no I as such but only the I of the basic word I-You and the I of the basic word I-It.

When a man says I, he means one or the other. The I he means is present when he says I. And when he says You or It, the I of one or the other basic word is also present.

Being I and saying I are the same. Saying I and saying one of the two basic words are the same.

Whoever speaks one of the basic words enters into the word and stands in it.

*

The life of a human being does not exist merely in the sphere of goal-directed verbs. It does not consist merely of activities that have something for their object.

I perceive something. I feel something. I imagine something. I want something. I sense something. I think something. The life of a human being does not consist merely of all this and its like.

All this and its like is the basis of the realm of It.

But the realm of You has another basis.

Whoever says You does not have something for his object. For wherever there is something there is also another something; every It borders on other Its; It is only by virtue of bordering on others. But where You is said there is no something. You has no borders.

Whoever says You does not have something; he has nothing. But he stands in relation.

*

We are told that man experiences his world. What does this mean?

Man goes over the surfaces of things and experiences them. He brings back from them some knowledge of their condition — an experience. He experiences what there is to things.

But it is not experiences alone that bring the world to man.

For what they bring to him is only a world that consists of It and It and It, of He and He and She and She and It. . . .

The world as experience belongs to the basic word I-It.

The basic word I-You establishes the world of relation.

*

When I confront a human being as my You and speak the basic word I-You to him, then he is no thing among things nor does he consist of things.

He is no longer He or She, limited by other Hes and Shes, a dot in the world grid of space and time, nor a condition that can be experienced and described, a loose bundle of named qualities. Neighborless and seamless, he is You and fills the firmament. Not as if there were nothing but he; but everything else lives in his light. . . .

*

I require a You to become; becoming I, I say You.

All actual life is encounter.

*

This, however, is the sublime melancholy of our lot that every You must become an It in our world. However exclusively present it may have been in the direct relationship — as soon as the relationship has run its course or is permeated by means, the You becomes an object among objects, possibly the noblest one and yet one of them, assigned its measure and boundary. The actualization of the work involves a loss of actuality. Genuine contemplation never lasts long; the natural being that has only now revealed itself in the mystery of reciprocity has again become describable, analyzable, classifiable — the point at which manifold systems of laws intersect. And even love cannot persist in direct relations; it endures, but only in the alternation of actuality and latency. The human being who but now was unique and devoid of qualities, not at hand but only present, not experienceable, only touchable, has again become a He or She, an aggregate of qualities, a quantum with a shape. Now I can again abstract from him the color of his hair, of his speech, of his graciousness; but as long as I can do that he is my You no longer and not yet again.

Every You in the world is doomed by its nature to become a thing or at least to enter into thinghood again and again. In the language of objects: every thing in the world can — either before or after it becomes a thing — appear to some I and its You. But the language of objects catches only one corner of actual life.

The It is the chrysalis, the You the butterfly. Only it is not always as if these states took turns so neatly; often it is an intricately entangled series that is tortuously dual.

*

The It-world hangs together in space and time.

The You-world does not hang together in space and time.

The individual You must become an It when the event of relation has run its course.

The individual It can become a You by entering into the event of relation.

These are the two basic privileges of the It-world. They induce man to consider the It-world as the world in which one has to live and also can live comfortably — and that even offers us all sorts of stimulations and excitements, activities and knowledge. In this firm and wholesome chronicle the You-moments appear as queer lyric-dramatic episodes. Their spell may be seductive, but they pull us dangerously to extremes, loosening the well-tried structure, leaving behind more doubt than satisfaction, shaking up our security — altogether uncanny, altogether indispensable. Since one must after all return into “the world,” why not stay in it in the first place? Why not call to order that which confronts us and send it home into objectivity? And when one cannot get around saying You, perhaps to one’s father, wife, companion — why not say You and mean It? After all, producing the sound “You” with one’s vocal cords does not by any means entail speaking the uncanny basic word. Even whispering an amorous You with one’s soul is hardly dangerous as long as in all seriousness one means nothing but experiencing and using.

One cannot live in the pure present: it would consume us if care were not taken that it is overcome quickly and thoroughly. But in pure past one can live; in fact, only there can a life be arranged. One only has to fill every moment with experiencing and using, and it ceases to burn.

And in all the seriousness of truth, listen: without It a human being cannot live. But whoever lives only with that is not human.

Father’s Day – and Fathers’ Day

Happy Father’s Day!

Empathies and condolences to those whose dads have died or disappeared, and to those have, or had, or are, or must deal with “difficult” fathers.

If Father’s Day brings you pain, this post is for you. If it’s Father’s Day, and there’s no father, or it’s Father’s Day, but there just isn’t a card you could possibly give your father, or it’s Father’s Day, but you’re struggling to play double as a single mom, or it’s Father’s Day but… whatever emotional dynamics make this day non-celebratory for you, there are other things you can do!

For fathers as for mothers, as for humans – all of can use a very ancient method to find a path to celebration.

Try letting go of the literal. CELEBRATE the fatherly qualities that you love as they are expressed through the people you know. There are great dads and great men all around you. There are! If you don’t see any, you need to get out more!

Focus on the qualities that you really, truly, most authentically admire and find worthy when you see them. These are habits and attitudes and actions and values and all sorts of other things that you would sincerely wish to see in play more often (in your world and in the worlds of others).

Imitate those things! Start doing those things or appreciating these things when you see them! Enjoy them! Mimic them! Repeat them! Celebrate them!

This method survives in the religious paths that aim to follow/imitate the person or journey of the Christ, and even in its watered-down version, the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) camp. But perhaps religion is part of why you’re not enjoying Father’s Day? Or perhaps the text-based, variously-interpreted Jesus doesn’t actually seem all that great either sometimes, especially through the lens of some of the uses to which it’s been put?

Some people think that you have to project a father into the sky, but that’s only a metaphor for the divinity – one among others, even in the most patriarchic traditions. It’s a way for us to connect with the idea of God by imagining that our own idea of a father is made perfect and loving and all-knowing, to compensate, to make us feel protected and loved. It’s a great idea, and a great feeling, but the divine can also be imagined as a mother, an animal, an idea. The divine isn’t limited. Only our imagination is limited. While I love to imagine the most wonderful of fathers is watching over me and guiding me and loving me, I don’t tend to get very literal about it and then turn around and worship him. Why? Because when I do that, I also can’t help but remember some of the less wonderful stuff, the father of pride and violence and manipulations, the father of unreasonable and conflicting demands – and commands, the father that can sometimes lack kindness or fairness. And these things then get tied up into the divine as well – as we see from our mythologies, and from our social histories.

What’s beautiful here to me is that whether you view this as a spiritual method or a practical method doesn’t really matter. If we all have a spark of the divine – then it’s already within us, and we will be attuned – if we pay attention. And if we don’t have a spark of the divine, we still have a character that continues to develop via questionings and habits and experiences, and we will notice things – if we pay attention.

No-one else is you! You will not admire everything about anyone, nor should you!

Instead, find the something here, and there…

People talk about role models, but I don’t think it’s productive or realistic to imitate or “worship” a person in their entirety – that’s just idolatry or something like that. I’m also not talking about any sort of colonial or predatory form of assimilation like a slash-and-burn cyborg here, and it doesn’t work when it’s in the mode of “should-ing” all over yourself because you feel that you don’t “measure up” in some way either.

It’s much more modest than that.

Just start to incorporate (incarnate?) what you really can’t help but see as a better thing, a sweet thing, a loving thing, a beautiful thing, a true thing, and helpful thing, a wise thing.

The trick here is to really learn to notice and to feel when you just truly admire or enjoy something – however small or fleeting it might be – about another person. You can’t really plan it, or calculate how it’s going to happen, but when you pay attention, you’ll start seeing. And when you start seeing, after a while you can’t believe that you didn’t see those things before.

Learn how to sense what’s real to you, and to follow your own heart and soul, by paying attention, through recognition, and by creative reconstruction, alignment, and re-alliance.

It’s too easy to stay in the realm of ideas on this, through some vision or articulation of a universal ideal. Instead, try really to focus in and allow the force of the galvanic singularities to affect you. Notice aspects and facets of the real people in your life, their ways of being and their actions, and their stories, and the little things that make them who they are. Of these, try picking up just one detail, the very best thing you know and love about that person, the thing you’d mention at their funeral if you had to speak about who they really were.

When you invite these little gems to activate within you, guess what happens? The very thing that you mimic, and re-present, and try to assimilate – transforms! It becomes a unique thing to you, because it can never repeat in exactly the same way when it’s filtered through the YOUness. Maybe there is no “real thing” but instead a chain of variations – sameness within difference, difference within sameness. I don’t know. I wish I did.

But this I can say with some confidence: However loosely bundled your heaps of self might be, it’s always great to pull in stuff that you know (that you intuit, that you feel, that you sense) is just better, truer, and/or more beautiful! Need some inspiration for starters? Try Atticus Finch!

On Father’s Day, I hope that YOU celebrate all those wonderful fatherly sparkles that are blooming here and there, through everyone, all over.

Happy Father’s Day, you dear, wonderful fathers!
Happy Father’s Day, you who father others in spirit!
Happy Father’s Day, you who inspire better ways to be a father!
Happy Father’s Day, you children who invoke love in the hearts of fathers!
Happy Father’s Day, you mothers loving fathers!
Happy Father’s Day, you who are fathers to the next generation, and the next!
Happy Father’s Day – everyone!

Watchtower Society/Jehovah’s Witnesses GUILTY – Must Pay Millions in Punitive Damages in Child Sex Abuse Case

I am overjoyed to see some traction on this issue at last.

The jury found that the elders who managed the Fremont congregation in the 1990s and who were under the supervision of Watchtower knew that Kendrick, a member, had recently been convicted of the sexual abuse of another child, but they kept his past record secret from the congregation, said Simons. Kendrick went on to molest the plaintiff, who was a Jehovah’s Witness member in Fremont, over a two-year period beginning when she was 9 years old, the lawsuit contended. Kendrick was eventually convicted in 2004 of the sexual abuse of another girl, and is now a registered sex offender in California, Simons said. He has not been criminally charged with abusing the plaintiff, but Simons said the case is under investigation by law enforcement.

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal entity, is responsible for the entire punitive damages amount and 40 percent of the compensatory damages, said Rick Simons, attorney for the plaintiff. Sixty percent of the compensatory damages was assessed against Jonathan Kendrick, the man accused of abusing her.

Yes, the Watchtower Society (along with their other “arms,” aka the “Jehovah’s Witnesses,”) have a policy of secrecy, as has been proven through the elder’s manual, “judicial” correspondence, the database of abusers that a Bethelite discovered, and numerous court cases that show that they neither notify the congregation nor even attempt to protect children when they are aware of sexual predators and violent abusers in their midst.

The key issue in the case, according to the victim’s attorney Rick Simons of Hayward, was the written policy of Watchtower New York, Inc., which instructed all Elders in Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations in the United States to keep reports of child sex abusers within Jehovah’s Witnesses secret to avoid lawsuits. The case is believed to be the first in the nation to directly address the policy of secrecy, adopted in 1989, and still in force today.

Yes, they have a policy of requiring two witnesses to any act of abuse (any attempt by a victim of any kind of abuse to get help from the elders, even with support from someone else, is considered “slanderous.”) They have to twist a rather obscure bible verse out of context to support this doctrine. And – of course – they encourage spying and reporting for all kinds of other things, some of them rather trivial.

Yes, they have a history of discouraging members from seeking help from any “worldly authorities” such as police or therapists. Such “worldly authorities” are believed to be ruled by Satan and therefore cannot be trusted. This effectively cuts off all possibility of help for those who wish to remain “in good standing.”

Yes, they have a policy of lying in court, which they call “theocratic strategy.” They comply with the law only just as far as they have to, but prefer to be the only authority in their member’s lives. They hide their totalitarianism with “servant” language, but some people might have a better historical idea of what a “circuit overseer” or “district overseer” might really be.

They need to change these policies, and others (such as the demonizing and shunning – even by their families – of those who eventually choose a different path in the freedom of conscience that they freely claim when trying to convert others).

In 2007, 17 victims shared a $13 million dollar settlement from church officials. It involved victims in three states California , Texas and Oregon and six Jehovah Witnesses perpetrators.

To those who have been making unfounded accusations about Candace Conti’s motives, please note that she requested 144,000 cents in punitive damages, and the jury instead granted 21 million (plus one!) dollars. I hope that his case – and the financial costs to Watchtower Society, including those of the many others who were silenced with settlements including gag orders – will force whatever section of the legal organization currently responsible for “new light” (changes in doctrine) to be less paranoid, misogynistic, and uncaring when they exercise their “guidance” as “God’s only channel.”


144000 cents requested, 21 million +1 awarded in punitive damages

Punitive Damages: 144,000 (!) cents Requested – 21 million plus 1 (!) dollars Awarded. Thanks to Steven Unthank at JWNews.net for the graphic.

“Until now, a jury has virtually never held the JW national headquarters responsible for repeated heinous child sex crimes and cover ups by church members or officials,” said William H. Bowen of Nashville, TN, who founded and heads a support group for those molested by Jehovah’s Witnesses. “This is a ground-breaking case and a watershed award against an especially callous group of church bureaucrats.”

The Watchtower legal troops haven’t given up yet:

“We’ve got a long ways to go yet before this one is resolved,” he said of the planned appeal. Simons said Jehovah’s Witnesses has sufficient resources, including valuable real estate, to cover the judgment but an appeal could drag out for years.

Whether Jehovah’s Witnesses are correct in their humble claim that they alone possess “the TRUTH” or not (and personally speaking, I don’t believe theirs is a very spiritually mature view of the divinity), they have a responsibility under the law to be less destructive.

“Nothing can bring back my childhood,” Conti told the Oakland Tribune. “But through this (verdict) and through, hopefully, a change in their policy, we can make something good come out of it.”

More! Added 6/17/2012:

Rescued Again by Flannery O’Connor’s Prose Poetry

Some prose is really poetry, isn’t it?

“Where you come from is gone,
where you thought you were going to
never was there,
and where you are is no good
unless you can get away from it.
Where is there a place for you to be?
No place.

Nothing outside you
can give you any place, he said.
You needn’t look at the sky
because it’s not going to open up
and show no place behind it.
You needn’t to search
for any hole in the ground
to look through into somewhere else.
You can’t go neither forwards nor backwards
into your daddy’s time
nor your children’s if you have them.

In yourself right now
is all the place you’ve got.

If there was any Fall, look there,
if there was any Redemption, look there,
and if you expect any Judgment, look there,
because they all three
will have to be
in your time and your body
and where in your time and your body
can they be?”

~ Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood



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.

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