Sunday, May 26, 2019

Revisiting the Abortion Issue

Although the question of abortion in the U.S. seemed settled in the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, with conservatism gaining more visibility since the Trump election, the issue of abortion has again become a contentious issue.  It is posed as a Yes or No question and both sides are highly emotionally charged so it is difficult to engage in rational discussions of the issue.

Much of the objection to abortion revolves around the question of ‘when is the fetus to be considered a human being?’ . . . is it as soon as the egg and sperm come together? . . . or is it with the first detectable heartbeat? . . . or is it when the fetus is viable—able to survive on its own outside the mother’s womb?  Law and science alone can’t give a definitive answer.

Another important issue at the core of the debate is ‘who has the right to make the decision concerning the use of a woman’s body?’  The woman? . . . the medical profession? . . . the Church? . . . the government?  The answer to that seems obvious—it is the woman. 

If we give careful consideration to that question, we see it as being influenced by the long-standing patriarchal perspective—a system of society or government controlled by men—wherein women have no voice, and all aspects of their lives are under the control of men.    That attitude can still be seen in the unwillingness to allow women to make their own choices.

More than a yes or no answer to abortion is needed.  Rather, what is needed is a deeper respect for life in general . . . unprotected sex can yield babies and babies are more than just today’s inconvenience.  We are all part of the flow of life and babies are the future generation.  Seen in those terms, abortion should never be a frivolous matter.  Women, being the carrier of life, hold a heavy responsibility . . . yet there are circumstances that can justify a choice to abort. Girls need be educated to protect their life-giving privilege and only in dire circumstances choose to eliminate a developing life in their body—but it is and must be their right to choose.

Let me bring up a point involving males that also concerns the ‘taking of life’.  There is a commandment ‘Thou shall not kill’ . . . all of civilization agrees that killing is wrong.  Yet since the beginning of time there have been wars—and they are even glorified in many ways.  It is almost exclusively men who initiate war and men who engage in war.  The world, having developed under patriarchy, has made no outcry—until recently—that war is immoral. 

The point I make here is two-fold: 1) men have not been restricted by law or Church to not engage in the killing of war, they have always been free to choose how to use their bodies; and 2) under a patriarchal system women’s freedom had been controlled by men. Historically, their freedom of movement was curtailed (needing male approval); their freedom to be educated, to choose professions, to own property, to vote, was withheld etc. Slowly women have fought to be free of male control and make their own choices—the abortion issue is part of that fight.  

I want my position to be clear on this issue.  I oppose abortion as simply a way to ‘solve the problem’ of an unplanned pregnancy; I believe it is a moral issue and should be resorted to only in a real crisis, but I recognize that there are circumstances that justify it.  This is a decision that only the one directly concerned can make—as are all moral decisions.  This conflict is a gender-freedom issue.  The long-standing patriarchal control strives to take away woman’s authority in this very sensitive matter—we again and still fight for our freedom.  

I do believe there should be reasonable legal limits to the time allowed in which to abort and a limit to humane methods used, but ultimately the decision pro or con regarding a woman’s choice should be in the hands of the woman concerned.  

Saturday, April 20, 2019

For Survival of Planet Earth

There are inherent values to guide human behavior that are essential for human survival on planet earth.

That is a strong sweeping statement.  I wish to unpack it . . . notice there is no mention of God in the statement.  It does not mean that God has been rejected or left out; it means the statement is applicable whether or not one holds a belief in God.

First let me make a statement about God, as I understand it.  When you think about a consciousness (God) that created life, the world and this vast wondrous universe you necessarily realize it is so beyond our capacity to grasp that you have to know that no group of people—no church, no nation; not theologians nor agnostics--can define or explain the phenomenon, so those insisting they know all the answers and have the right formula are wrong.

From that starting point, I say we can take some tentative steps toward recognizing what a creator (if there was one) who brought forth this beautiful delicately balanced world and life, would want from those creatures displaying the marvelous human quality of reflective awareness (reasoning).  It would surely be to appreciate the wonder and continue to create and flourish, not destroy it all.

Next statement I would make concerns inherent values . . . every society since the beginning of time—no, rather let me say since the beginning of reflective awareness—has looked beyond the immediate seeking answers.  Answers to ‘what is the best way to capture the game?’  ‘How should we protect ourselves?’  And ‘what is out there bringing this all about?’  They come to different answers but the quest is universal.  The desire to know and to understand is simply a part of being human.  In that desire to know and understand, if we look, we will find ways of being that support life and ways that oppose it.

Once we didn’t know how to extend communication beyond speech and writing; now we have phones and computers to instantly convey information.
Once we had only horses, oxen, elephants and camels to transport our goods and us; now we have cars, trains and planes for that.
Once we gave consideration to only ourselves, our family and our nation to prosper; but now we must look beyond that and realize we are one world and we have the ability to destroy it . . . and our lack of foresight has allowed that to become a real threat.

We have thus far ignored looking deeply into ethics and values, but now it is incumbent upon us if we are to avoid self-destruction.

About 125 years ago all the world religions began to dialogue, seeking a common core of values. In 1993 The Parliament of World’s Religions, after years of work, produced the document Toward a Global Ethic that was signed by 200 representatives of all world religions.  That document has been translated into nearly all languages and is available on the Internet.

The fact that all religions could come to an agreement, looking beyond their differences and see that we are all interconnected by common values is amazing!  Our humanness is supported by shared inherent values recognizable by our reflective awareness.

The 5 fundamental ethical demands are:
1.    Commitment to a culture of non-violence and respect for life.
2.    Commitment to a culture of solidarity and just economic order
3.    Commitment to a culture of tolerance and a life of truth
4.    Commitment to a culture of equal rights for all races and genders
5.    Commitment to a culture of sustainability and care for the earth

Only when we come to recognize the truth and necessity of these principles can we step back from the impending disaster we are now faced with.

If there is a God (and I believe there is) I think that God would care less about how people pray or if they pray at all, so much as about how they live their lives in accordance to a moral and ethical order, how they cared for and sustained this wonderful life-giving planet, and how they finally learned to love their neighbor as themselves.

I encourage readers to search the Web for Toward a Global Ethic.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Invasion of Privacy

Uncharacteristic of my usual blog content, I want to say a few words about advertising.  It seems odd to me that so much fuss was made about privacy when the government was searching bundles of phone lines to apprehend connections with potential terrorists—that’s not listening in on private conversations, it was seeking to know about connections with foreign powers—yet there was an outcry in the media.

As for the privacy issue, my privacy is invaded on a daily basis through my house phone and cell phone robocalls; through the internet via uninvited and unwanted ads in email and messages; through the mail with a sea of printed advertising, and through TV which seems to have become devoted more to constant ads than programming—I pay to have TV yet I’m subjected to endless advertising.

I have faithfully watched CBS Morning Show for years.  They have important and accurate news, interesting guests on a variety of topics as well as friendly and humorous banter between their reporters—it’s a well-rounded informative show.  But over the years the advertising has increased to the degree that I estimate equal time is now given to ‘stuff’ other than the show itself.  Many ads are the same ones over and over and they have added   more advertising for their other CBS shows.  In addition to repetitive advertising, time is consumed by long weather/traffic reports repeated every 10 to 15 minutes and between ads they insert shots of the reporters around the table to make viewers think the show has returned in case they zoomed ahead to skip the ads.  I no longer want to watch it on live TV.  The effect of the onslaught of advertising from all directions has alienated me to the extent that I deliberately avoid purchasing things that are over-advertised.  

If the government is to protect our privacy, why is there no effort to protect us from the invasion of unwanted advertising over our phones, the Internet, TV we pay to receive, and the US mail?  Why is it OK for advertising sources to collect data to learn an individual’s preferences and aim specific advertising at them?  Why is there no privacy protection there?

It seems to be a confirmation that our consumerism is out of hand.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Patriarchy Challenged

In the book Sapiens, the author Harari states: “All societies are based on imagined hierarchies”.  These imagined orders divide people into make-believe groups—upper levels enjoy privileges and power while lower levels suffer discrimination and oppression. There has been some change over time . . . but, “One hierarchy, however, has been of supreme importance in all known human societies: the hierarchy of gender.” 

“Most human societies have been Patriarchal societies that valued men more highly than women.” “People everywhere have divided themselves into men and women.  And almost everywhere men have gotten the better deal . . . In many societies women were simply the property of men, most often their fathers, husbands and brothers.”  

In rare instances a woman has gained prominence—as in Royal succession—she may inherit the title when there is no male heir; but it is illusionary.  He gives the example of Elizabeth I of England who reigned for 45 years yet during her rule, “all Members of Parliament were men, all officers in the Royal Navy and army were men, all judges and lawyers were men, all bishops and archbishops were men, all theologians and priests were men, all doctors and surgeons were men, all students and professors in all universities and colleges were men, all sheriffs were men and almost all the writers, architects, poets, philosophers, painters musicians and scientists were men.”

“Patriarchy has been the norm in almost all agricultural and industrial societies . . . since it is so universal, it cannot be the product of some vicious circle that was kick-started by chance occurrence.”  How did this happen?  Harari asks, “What accounts for the universality and stability of this system? . . . we just don’t know.”

I want to speculate on a possibility . . . it is evolution.  Teilhard says evolution is the underlying principle of all that is. Life is dynamic, ever changing and time is one directional—an ever expanding process.  Looking at the law of complexity-consciousness, in all things, as the external (the without) grows more complex, the internal (the within) expands in consciousness.

When the Homo sapiens first acquired language and complex thought, it was an untamed brutal world. It stands to reason that men were better equipped with their strength, aggression, and violence to take command in that world.  It was also obvious that since nature gave women the responsibility of bearing, birthing, and nursing the next generation (which was not a one-time thing but continuous) that confined her activities to a smaller circle thereby the domestic scene with its requirements became her primary stage of operation.  Those obvious roles were dictated by nature in a primitive world.

But as the world became more civilized, more complex and with more opportunities, men, having come from that ‘might means right’ brutal world, saw themselves as being ‘in charge’ . . . so as civilization advanced, there was no desire on the part of man to share decision-making authority with woman.  Clearly men had the strength/violence advantage to enforce that, so what began as a natural biologically ordered division of labor became a dictatorial Patriarchal system in which, almost universally, women became second-class citizens with no authoritative input and the ‘voice’ of women was silenced. 

In psychology it is recognized that all human qualities are present in all people, but are exhibited at different strengths in each individual.  It is also understood that taken as a whole, each gender emphasizes certain preferences.  Lists of gender characteristics give males as having: strength, courage, independence, dominance, violence, competitiveness, assertiveness . . . and females as having: gentleness, empathy, sensitivity, compassion, jealousy, nurturance, tolerance . . . Given these characteristics each gender sees the world through different eyes and speaks with a different voice.   

By having long ago adopted Patriarchy as the basic societal hierarchy, half of humanity was eliminated from shaping the forward movement of civilization.  For uncountable generations this system was unchallenged and those dominant male qualities shaped the world to his view—with aggression gaining ever more prominence on the world stage as wars increased in frequency and intensity. 

Slowly female consciousness has awakened to the inequality and danger our world has found itself in.  It was and is an evolutionary awakening of consciousness.  By Patriarchy silencing the female voice during civilization’s advance distorted the outcome; the violence, aggression, dominance, and competitiveness of male characteristics have gone unchecked by female sensitivity, compassion, empathy and tolerance.  That makes no claim of female superiority; rather, it recognizes those qualities present in all humanity but associated more with the female.  They have been left out of the equation by silencing the female ‘voice’ thereby unbalancing our world.

Evolution is kicking in to bring attention to the ‘left out’ dimension, and the changing of the state of women on the world stage gives evidence to it. 

Evolution moves forward by advancing in complexity while increasing in consciousness and transforming to a higher state.  That is our present challenge—to fully embrace the whole of humanity.  There is purpose and direction to be found in evolution . . . we are to build the earth, not destroy it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Is Humanity Evolving?

Herein I make references to the concepts of Teilhard de Chardin, a scientist, Jesuit and Theologian who has stated that evolution is God’s plan ‘which is the underlying principle of all that is.’  Evolution is transformation.

It is easy to see how we have made progress with our technology.  In the life span of our oldest senior citizens society has moved from horse drawn carriages to supersonic jets for transportation; and from the cumbersome stationary telephone to smart phones that we carry in our pockets for communication.  The without—the material things—are so much more obvious, right there before our eyes.  We can weigh, measure and take apart the ‘things’ of the world and come to understand them and make improvements, but that isn’t evolution, it is production. The evolution is represented by the inventiveness.  In the within—the non-material thoughts and feelings—which are out of sight, there is nothing to weigh and measure so until recently they have been overlooked—yet in that within is the driving force of our advances. 

So what is that driving force?  Let’s call it consciousness—a word bantered around much these days but is still ill defined.  The agreed definition is that the word refers to ‘awareness by the mind of itself and the world.’  (Teilhard calls that reflective awareness.)  It was Sigmund Freud (1856 -1939) who initiated interest in the study of the mind by dividing the mind into two parts: the conscious and the unconscious.  Later Carl Jung added the concept of the collective unconscious, defined as ‘the part of the unconscious mind which is derived from ancestral memory and experiences that are common to all mankind.  (The way our humanness preserves consciousness).

Let’s return to our question: Is humanity evolving?  It’s an important question.  I postulate that if the question were asked in a survey, answers would fall into 3 groups. The smallest group would be those who say ‘yes’; the next group, a bit larger but more emphatic, would say ‘NO!’ and the remaining largest group would be made up of those who just shrug or say ‘I never thought about that.’  It’s an important question because a ‘yes’ answer opens the door to hope whereas the ‘no’ answer keeps company with fatalism. 

The essence of evolution is transformation from a lower state to a higher state. Here we need to consider the law of complexity-consciousness.  This law reflects the tendency for creatures to become more complex and at the same time to increase in consciousness.  We can see this operative in species development which, over billions of years, simple one-cell creatures grew increasingly more complex eventually developing spinal cords and brains which enabled them to have more freedom while rudimentary awareness increased to allow a choice of reacting patterns.  Initially evolution focused more on the without until Homo sapiens appeared, then evolution turned inward.  The within in humanity became the focus for evolution.The human is not merely ‘another creature, the human was God’s plan from the beginning.  Teilhard calls mankind ‘the flower on the tree of life.

From 800-400 BC a major evolutionary step was represented by the Axial Age when, throughout the then inhabited world, clusters of humanity simultaneously and independently produced thinkers and philosophers who laid spiritual groundwork which became the foundations of human civilization.

It is easier to see evolutionary advances from a distance . . . look all the way back to the early Homo sapiens.  The emergent humans came with the inherent ability for speech, but speech had to be invented . . . and they found ways to turn their grunts and vocal sounds into words—a gigantic evolutionary step forward without which civilization could not have been accomplished.  Those sounds-become-words needed ways to be captured and preserved . . . marks on objects became letters which became permanentized words . . . with time, more and more ways to preserve words came into being . . . writing on clay tablets, parchment, paper . . . all came to be from human effort.  Then came the marvelous invention of the printing press which hundreds of years later gave way to the computer.  We take those long-past innovations for granted, but stop for a moment and realize how transformative each of those steps was.  Those were evolutionary advances because the scope of what was possible had expanded.  The without of the shapes and forms are only incidental, the wonder lies in the non-material—the expansion of consciousness within the human mind.

It seems hard to accept that humanity is evolving when we can see so much humanly produced evil . . . but it make sense from the point of view of our freedom.  God gave the human free will.  That means God does not control us; we can choose our ‘next step’. The important thing to remember is that with the expansion of consciousness comes the advancement of knowledge.

Let’s think of an early human taking a new path and coming upon a tree with red objects hanging down. His tribe hadn’t encountered apples before.  He picks and bites into one and finds it tasty and good to eat.  He has three choices: He can take some back and share them with his tribe; he can eat his full and return to his tribe saying nothing thereby keeping this secret pleasure to himself; or he can lie to his people, telling of his encounter with a tree with large red berries and many dead animals around who must have eaten the poison berries—thus insuring no one else will eat them.  Humans are free to use their knowledge in any way.

Is humanity advancing? Clearly that is the case, but because of equal opportunity between the negative and positive uses of our abilities we are now in a precarious position unless and until we consciously and collectively choose for the good.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Gift

Last December I first published this Christmas story here.  I believe it is my favorite of all my short stories.  It was well received then, so I repeat it for Christmas 2018.

The Gift

            In the time before the star shone over Bethlehem, there lived a shepherd and his wife who had six sons.The husband was very proud to have such a family of sons, but the wife longed for a daughter.   After the fourth boy, she had expressed that wish to her husband.  He scolded her, saying it was sons, not daughters that every good Hebrew should pray for.   Although she dearly loved and cared for each son, she never stopped yearning for a daughter. After the birth of her sixth boy her heart became heavy, realizing she was passing out of her childbearing years and was not to realize her hope.  But to their surprise, she conceived again, and a year later, she gave birth to a girl! She immediately declared the child to be God’s blessing, and requested of her husband that the baby be named Johanna, Hebrew for ‘gift of God’.  They so named her.
            The baby was very beautiful, strong and healthy—except for a twisted foot.  Faithfully during the child’s infancy, her mother massaged and molded the foot, which improved from the care, but it was never to be fully cured.  Throughout her life, Johanna was to walk with a limp.  
            The husband—being a good Jew—went frequently to the temple.  As his fellow worshipers became aware of the child’s deformity, some would shake their heads and say this was punishment for his sins.  When he repeated this to his wife—who usually made no retort to his chidings—she scolded him: “Do not question God!  His ways are not our ways . . . this child is a gift; God has plans for her.”  The husband just shook his head and walked away.
            Johanna had a loving nature and sweet disposition, but she did not speak.  At first they thought nothing of it—with six lively and boisterous brothers, there was always commotion to which she was alert, so they simply thought her quiet.  One day a physician said her tongue cleaved to her jaw and she would never speak.  
              “—A curse of God for sure!” said the people.
            As she grew, the girl learned household tasks as befits a Hebrew woman, but she also had a great love of the sheep of her father’s flock and took delight in shepherding them in nearby fields that were not hard to walk to.  Later, as she matured, Johanna took on the task of bedding them at night when they were stabled . . . and she gently soothed the delivering ewes at lambing time.  Several times she saved both ewe and lamb in a difficult labor.  Always she was kind and gentle.  The knowledge of her skill spread through the village and at lambing time all welcomed her.
            As the years went on, each of the brothers in turn took wives . . . but no marriage could be arranged for Johanna.  Only the mean or stupid would accept so flawed a woman for wife, and her parents would not agree to such a match. 
            As her parents grew old, the daughter cared first for her father, then later her mother thru their aged infirmities, always with kindness and a loving disposition.  Her mother never ceased saying Johanna was God’s gift and blessing.
            After the deaths of her parents, Johanna went to live with and assist the elderly devout long-widowed Anna of the tribe of Asher, who spent much time in the temple praying. In addition to the duties of Anna’s house, Johanna continued to watch over the stables and tend the lambing of the village.
            One December evening, on her rounds of the stables, Johanna came upon a man sitting dejectedly with his head in his hands—at her approach the man leapt to his feet saying, “You are the answer to my prayers . . . Can you help me? I am Joseph; my wife Mary is about to give birth . . .” Johanna gave no response. “I am a carpenter and do not have knowledge of such things.  We came for the census.  I could find no lodgings or midwife for her, but we were given shelter in this stable . . . her time has come.  Now she is napping between her labor pains—and I feel so helpless.  I called upon the Lord God to send help . . . and here you are.  Will you help us?”
            Johanna nodded. Joseph soon realized she could not speak, but he did not question God.  He thanked God for sending this kind young woman as he handed her the supplies they had carried with them for this need.  She moved with self-assurance and, though not a midwife, all the years of tending the ewes gave her the needed inner confidence.  Her kindness, warmth and gentleness soothed both the travelers.
            At the moment of birth, gently she received the newborn into her hands, cleared the mucus, patted his back to encourage his first breaths of air, wiped him with the linens, and tucked him into Mary’s arms.
            With gratefulness, Mary received the baby and said, “He is to be called, Jesus.”  At that moment the infant’s tiny fingers curled around Johanna’s index finger—she opened her lips and whispered “Welcome, Jesus” . . . 


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Manifested Consciousness

Who is God and what is God? I can’t possibly know.  I believe religions help us to focus on the concept of God, which is needed by humanity in order to not self-destruct, but religions are man’s creation.  Humans are flawed so errors are made in religion’s attempts to reach for God.

Science—because it can’t prove God exists—denies the possibility of God and credits randomness for creating the human species, our world, and the universe. Now that takes more ‘faith’ than I can muster.  As I study all that is ordered I see a requirement for consciousness to plan a process of selecting, sequencing and executing to achieve the desired result.

Slabs of metal, nuts and bolts, pieces of glass and rolls of leather will never randomly assemble themselves into a car no matter how much time is given; flour, sugar, eggs and chocolate pieces will never randomly assemble into cookies under any circumstances.

The human species, our world and the universe are the most carefully ordered sequences that can be imagined.

I have no faith that randomness yields complex order—it requires intentionality. 

I don’t know who or what God is, but I believe the order that brought us and all that is into existence has been the manifestation of a consciousness capable of bringing order. I’m content to call that God.