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Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold

W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming, 1919

The most productive environment is that where employees are valued and treated with respect and dignity and where there is no unethical behaviour. Ethical behaviour encompasses the concepts of honesty, integrity, probity, diligence, fairness, trust, respect and consistency. It includes avoiding conflicts whenever possible, and not making improper use of an individual’s position or of someone else’s work without proper acknowledgement. Nobody should be forced to listen to bad language or insults or be belittled in front of others in any way.

Equal Opportunities at CERN: Respect and Dignity in the Workplace

I had an interesting conversation with a friend, recently, sparked by Rod Dreher’s post about a horribly objectivist young person in which the topic of respect came up — we were mostly in agreement, but she cringed at the use of terms such as respect and honor, finding them hijacked by authoritarian groups and prefering terms like consideration. The double-meaning of such words, especially in traditional cultures, certainly does not help (hands up, those native English speakers among you, who honestly does not free-associate the word honor with the word killing). But as the second quote indicates, the word respect still has its more neutral, relational meaning… and it’s a disturbing trend when people shirk from using it and letting reactionary groups own that space.

In the larger scheme of things, Western society as a whole seems to be trapped in the same dilemma as that facing the grid-locked, partisan US politics. On one side, the fundamentalist religionists denouncing the depravity of modern culture, the collapse of traditional authority, etc. — despite their own rhetoric, hypocritically showing no respect for the dignity and humanity of the other side. On the other, the fundamentalist atheism of Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers and their ilk. Trapped in the middle are the moderates, whether religious or agnostic/atheistic (I experienced this first-hand — an Anglican priest in Jakarta (very low-church, he shows complete disrespect for the Anglican patrimony w.r.t. liturgy — managed to diss both agnostics like de Botton and adherents of other religions, in one sermon. Yes, I explicitly wrote sermon instead of homily). I’m not singling out Westerners here; in many other parts of the world atheists can’t even come out.

It’s important not to adopt a false equivalence — when it comes to politics and religion, the responsibility for the increased divide is not shared equally by both sides. Respected political scientists showed that Republicans are the problem in US politics (even traditionalist conservatives like Rod Dreher find many problems with the party, although culture war issues prevent many of them from ever contemplating voting for the other side, thus perpetuating the gridlock). When it comes to religious attitudes, likewise, it seems that there are relatively few really outspoken atheists on one side, outnumbered by the many outspoken Prosperity Gospel evangelical televangelists, pastors, and their followers. As a liberal Anglo-Catholic, I’d say this definitely for the record: the so-called Prosperity Gospel is immoral, un-Christian, and even the most overbearing neo-atheists such as Dawkins are more morally upright than the hypocritical, self-serving, greedy and manipulative lifestyles of those who use God and fellow brethrens to make a quick buck.

The only way to get out of this impasse is for the moderates on both sides of the divide to reach out to one another — and that requires having a shared language, and respectful understanding of where the other side is coming from. Secular liberals in the West would do well to acknowledge and remember the Christian origin of their form of liberalism — or even their practice of atheism — to quote Andre Comte-Sponville:

This is why I sometimes like to describe myself as a faithful atheist. I am an atheist, since I believe neither in God nor in any supernatural power, and yet I am faithful, since I acknowledge my place within a specific history, tradition and community, namely the Greco-Judeo-Christian values of the Western world.

Andre Comte-Sponville, The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, page 30.

Likewise, strong majorities of all but Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe theirs is the exclusive path to salvation — and it’d certainly improve things if some religious leaders would start leading from the front rather than holding their flocks back. As an OJN affiliate, I remain cautiously optimistic about the future — but there’s certainly a lot of work ahead of us

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well

Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

From The Jakarta Post:

Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, the task force’s chairman, said Wednesday that the definition would be universally applied to all regions in the country, regardless of cultural background.

“We have yet to set a standard definition of pornography on which we will base our work. However, there must be a set of universal criteria to define something as pornographic, one of which will be when a woman wears a skirt above the knee,” Suryadharma told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with the House of Representatives’ Commission VIII overseeing religious and social affairs on Wednesday.

If the Religious Affairs Minister really considers showing knees to be “pornographic”, then perhaps we should at least be consistent and apply it in a gender-neutral fashion? Let’s ban shorts and swimming trunks for men as well. Even the Afghan Talibans were more even-handed in this regard when they punished a visiting Iranian (male) soccer team with lashings for showing their elbows and knees!

This culture of blaming the victims (of sexual objectification, harassment, and violence) for the indecent thoughts and actions of (mostly male) perpetrators is rather dubious.

Another very well-written Doug Muder article as usual, so I’d just post an excerpt and urge you to read the rest

Libertarians tend to take property as a given, as if it were natural or existed prior to any government. But defining what can be owned, what owning it means, and keeping track of who owns what — that’s a government intervention in the economy that dwarfs all other government interventions. You see, ownership is a social thing, not an individual thing. I can claim I own something, but what makes my ownership real is that the rest of you don’t own it. My ownership isn’t something I do, it’s something we do.

[Aside: This is why it’s completely false to say that government programs primarily benefit the poor. Property is a creation of government, so the primary beneficiaries of government are the people who own things — the rich.]

Weekly Sift, Why I Am Not a Libertarian

Many whom God has the Church does not have; and many whom the Church has, God does not have
— St. Augustine, paraphrased by Karl Rahner

(h/t: The Very Rev Samuel T. Lloyd III, Washington National Cathedral; the sermon, on inclusivity, touches some of the same points as an earlier sermon by the Orthodox Very Rev. Archimandrite Ambrose Bitziadis-Bowers)

In the latest Point of Inquiry podcast episode, regular host Chris Mooney, the science journalist, is interviewed by Ronald A. Lindsey, a bioethicist, lawyer and CEO of POI’s parent organization Center for Inquiry.

Chris is his usual well-balanced self, but Lindsey, whether he’s just being a devil’s advocate or, as seems more likely, actually believe in strong neo-atheism, displays a rather… disconcerting attitude. He reminds me of a friend’s observation that some Mensans have a hard time accepting that the average person is less rational than them (which itself is a flaw on their rationality — insisting that everyone else sees thing the way one does, rather than more dispassionately trying to understand belief formation) — first by assuming that any non-confrontational dialogue between religion and science is a subtle attack on science itself (and assuming that organizations such as the Templeton Foundation are immutable and thus their past flaws are proof of a continuing sinister intent), then by, incredulously, asking if, indeed, getting religious believers to accept scientific findings has to involve an appeal to emotion as well as to reason, whether atheist scientists should not *shame* religious people into abandoning their beliefs!

With the display of hubris, lack of empathy, and misunderstanding of basic psychology on offer, neo-atheists like Lindsey (and Richard Dawkins) are really doing themselves and science a disservice — perpetuating a distrust between atheists and religious people, and making it harder to engage and change the mind of people on important, time-critical issue such as climate change. Because to them, irrationally, nothing is as important as first wiping off religious belief from existence. Which begs the question — why the irrational hatred?

Today marks the feast of Dame Julian of Norwich in the Anglican and Lutheran churches, and by blessed serendipity, my one year of affiliation with the Order of Julian of Norwich — the feast day is actually on May 8th, but as a minor feast it is moved when the feast day falls on a Sunday.

She was believed to be an anchoress attached to the church of St. Julian in Norwich, England — of her personal life we know almost nothing, save from her visions and her remarkable theological explorations of them — in a near-death experience, Blessed Julian received visions of Jesus Christ, which she wrote down as what we now call the Short Text; the expanded version, which she wrote several decades later, the Revelations of Divine Love, is believed to be first book written in the English language by a woman.

This fact alone is quite remarkable — what makes it even more so is how hopeful and progressive her vision was. Amidst Black Death epidemics and revolts, her vision is that of a God of Love, not one who punishes the wicked. In a patriarchal society, she casts Jesus as a universal mother. This love is expressed in her most oft-quoted line: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well — a remarkable and soothing expression of trust!

The collect for the day, from the Episcopal church’s Holy Women, Holy Men. In Rite II (contemporary language), since that’s what the Order uses (those who, like me, have an attachment to the language of the King James Bible can find that version in HWHM):

Lord God, in your compassion you granted to the Lady
Julian many revelations of your nurturing and sustaining
love: Move our hearts, like hers, to seek you above all
things, for in giving us yourself you give us all; through
Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and
the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Find out more about Dame Julian on the Episcopal Church’s HWHM blog — and if you feel drawn to the vision of this remarkable woman for the church, the Order of Julian of Norwich and the Friends of Julian would love to hear from you.

A thoughtful question asked by Rev. Ungar of the UU Church of the Larger Fellowship; I thought I’d share my answer here.

In joining a religious community you bring along your past religious experience. What are the significant elements of that past which you would like to retain? What elements would you prefer to drop?

I got started on religious diversity early on in life — I was born in France, a mostly-Catholic but highly secular country, and came back to Indonesia with my parents at the age of 5. Mom’s Roman Catholic, dad’s a lapsed (and sometimes Christmas-Easter) RC. Due to logistics my younger brother and I ended up at an evangelical mission school, while by the time my sister (the youngest sibling) is old enough for school, we’ve been there long enough for her to attend a good Catholic school.
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