Nature, Nurture, Torture

Over at Ribbon Farm, Venkatesh Rao has a key theory of human development. Three factors are needed: nature, nurture, and torture. The key, notched and grooved, is the end result. After all of that, you are a real individual, a unique snowflake.

It sounds like another way of telling the story of the Velveteen Rabbit. He is a made object (nature) that is loved by a boy (nurture) until he is worn threadbare and then thrown out to be burned (torture) which leads a magical fairy to turn him into a real rabbit (key). The end.

A similar story is told with Pinocchio or the movie AI, both involving a blue fairy that makes them into real boys. Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly also follows this narrative pattern, but instead involves a blue flower that symbolizes what has been sought.

It’s quite a process to become real, if you survive the torture.

* * *

The Key to Act Two
by Venkatesh Rao

Nature, Nurture, Torture

The thing about becoming a key, unless you have a father who can curse you into one at birth, is that you can’t skip the tortures. Nor can industrial processes like cold-forging inflict the necessary kinds of pain. Not all tortures are equally horrendous of course. The truly horrendous ones don’t just carve a unique pattern of notches into you, they destroy you.

But what doesn’t destroy you only makes you uniquer.

Like that kid in Slumdog Millionaire who, through a series of horrifying ooga boogas, acquires exactly the set of answers required to unlock the million-dollar game show prize before he was out of his teens. Like I said, most people take till 40 or so, but some people get lucky, and become keys in nondeterministic polynomial time, which for a human life is anything less than 19 years.

This by the way, suggests, but does not prove, that becoming a key is a human-complete problem.

Here’s a mnemonic to remember this. You’ve heard of nature and nurture, right? Nature and nurture get you to the end of Act I and to the bathroom line in the lobby, but if that’s all you have, you aren’t a key.

Becoming a key is all about nature, nurture, and torture.

Nature is genes. It creates a space of life-script possibilities.

Nurture is some genes liking where they find themselves and choosing to express themselves through epic protein poetry, and other genes going, “fuck this shit, I’m not talking” and retreating into sullen, inexpressive silence. This is a narrowing of life script possibilities from 100% to say 7.8%.

It’s still a large class of behaviors rather than a specific path, because nurture only conditions you to produce behavior patterns, it doesn’t pick out a specific circumstantial path. Nature and nurture together only produce characters waiting for stories to happen to them.

If you understand that much, then my key-lock script can be understood as nature-nurture-torture. The last bit is what turns a character arc into a full-blown plot.

Torture is life experiences breaking you irreversibly in 8 ways, narrowing possibilities further, turning you into a unique key with exactly one life to live. Not a clod, which is what cold forging produces by erasing identity sufficiently to serve interchangeable-parts purposes, but a hardened stand-alone snowflake who doesn’t need a clod to protect them from the world.

Torture narrows life down to one possibility. Becoming a key means you have a shot at actually getting to that one possibility and making it your mission. A life lived with full intentionality, complete insufferability (which you earn through your tortures), and with no angsty what-ifs distracting you.

Harry Potter, for instance, was a 1/8 Chosen One because of that lightning-shaped scar he acquired at birth. The other key notches he had to earn through the first 6 books. Voldemort on the other hand, deliberately forged himself into the antikey with all that horcrux stuff. All that stuff was neither nature, nor nurture. It was key-forming torture.

See, the reason all this scarring and horcruxing is necessary is that nature and nurture are not enough. They leave life in what mathematicians call an under-determined state. And since most people instinctively address under-determination by creating symmetric variable bindings for the unused variables (it’s what you perceive as “beauty”), they foreclose on the option of becoming a key.

Yeah, becoming a key is an ugly business.

* * *

4/3/18 – Some additional thoughts.

Talk of torture reminds me of the oddity of modern civilization, specifically WEIRD societies. Other societies are less obsessed with individuality and some don’t seem to have any kind of identity that exactly equates to the individual self. Western society has required torture as part of the process in creating individuals. Sebastian Junger talks about this in his book Tribe, although I don’t recall him ever referring to ‘torture’ as a way of framing his view. The context is a bit different, but essentially he is contrasting individualism and tribalism, the latter once having been the normal experience of all humans. Rather than torture, he does discuss to great extent the issue of trauma, including in childhood and the consequences it has in adulthood.

Some of the practices that have taken hold in Western societies such as mothers ignoring crying babies is highly abnormal and forms a warped psychology. Instead, babies are given pacifiers, blankets, and stuffed animals (what Donald Woods Winnicot referred to as transitional objects) to teach them to soothe and entertain themselves — and other kinds of objects play a similar role: “Like pacifiers, books are tools of enculturation that help create the individual self. Instead of mommy’s nipple, the baby soothes themselves. Instead of voices in the world, the child becomes focused on text. In both cases, it is a process of internalizing.” This extreme form of torturous childrearing isn’t seen in traditional societies.

As I said in a comment elsewhere, “I see how the pacifier could be traumatizing to the developing psyche. Self-soothing is like empty calories causing you to eat more and more while never getting what you really need, the end result being obesity and disease. The baby isn’t seeking self-soothing. What the baby wants is nourishment along with maternal love and protection. The pacifier stunts human development by not allowing normal human bonding.” So, torture maybe a necessary component to the individuation of the modern self, but it comes at a high cost for each person and for society. Johann Hari in his recent books (Chasing the Scream & Lost Connections) goes into great detail about the problems caused by the disconnection and isolation of hyper-individualism. The key theory of nature-nurture-torture does explain how to create a modern individual, whether or not that is a desirable result.

Here is my second thought. There is different angle to consider, one that roots the key theory (or elements of it) in the premodern past. Another way of thinking about ‘torture’ is to look to stories, specifically fairytales and mythologies.

The story of Pinocchio is obviously rooted in European paganism and his torturous individuation has much mythological resonance. This is made clear with the blue fairy (the girl/maiden/goat with azure or turquoise hair), a tripartite child-maiden-crone goddess of death-and-rebirth (related to Philip K. Dick’s blue flower of A Scanner Darkly, there was dark-haired Donna who was a manifestation of the author’s favorite archetype, the dark-haired girl who took on many forms as characters in his stories: girlfriend, femme fatale, goddess, savior, etc). It’s similar to Isis as sister and consort to Osiris and then later mother to Osiris reborn as Horus. Pinocchio hung on a tree is an ancient portrayal of crucifixion which typically involved tree imagery (nailed to, tied to, pierced by an arrow below, or hung from).

Blue/azure/turquoise was a sacred color in the ancient world because of its rarity in nature. It is one of the last colors that is given a name in diverse languages, often originally being mixed up with black. It has been theorized that ancient people (e.g., Homer) didn’t even perceive blue as a separate color, not until blue dyes became common. Young children, even when taught the word for blue, will still sometimes mix it up with black.

Pinocchio’s blue fairy is related to the púca, fairies of Celtic religion typically described as black or dark. Fairies often are known as trickster/shapeshifters and sometimes in fairytales get portrayed as witches living alone in a house in the woods. Some goddesses, such as Saraswati, use shapeshifting in the myths about how they gave birth to the beings of the world.

Tricksters have the power of transformation, both within themselves and their effect on others, such as transforming a puppet into a boy or replacing a child with a changeling. They are powerful deities/spirits who are capable of good and evil, often making unclear such distinctions as they precede humanity and human notions of morality. But many tricksters take on roles of cultural heroes and salvific figures. Or else they become examples of moral consequences, as is the case with Pinocchio’s trickster behavior getting him into trouble.

Pinocchio, of course, has some elements of a resurrection figure. This goes beyond his crucifixion and rebirth as a real boy. Like Jesus’ father Joseph, Pinocchio’s father Geppetto is a woodcarver (this is related to the mythological motif of creator/father as a builder). It is Geppetto who calls for the blue fairy and so these two stand in as parents (the father of form and the mother of spirit) to the creation of this new being, Pinocchio.

This is rather fascinating. Let me break down the death aspect in more detail.

The blue fairy is first shown as a young girl and claims to already be dead, waiting for her coffin in a house of the dead. As a spirit-being or goddess of death, she removes Pinocchio from his crucified state on a tree. They become like brother and sister (reminiscent of Isis and Osiris). Later, after her own death and burial with her house having been torn down to become a tombstone, she reappears older and takes on the role of mother to Pinocchio (in the way Isis does in relation to her consort Osiris being reborn as the child Horus) and in that maternal role she offers forgiveness.

The blue fairy ends up dying multiple times in the story, defying death each time with mysterious and unexplained reappearances as being alive again. Her final (or seemingly final) death brings a boon to Pinocchio, in reward for his changed behavior and his growing maturity. He is a real boy becoming a responsible adult, on his way to individuation. But he had to go through extensive torture involving all kinds of suffering and harm along the way. Individuation by way of death and rebirth isn’t for the faint of heart.

Speaking of resurrection, the Christian holy day of Easter was yesterday. That has its origins in paganism. I just wrote about this, but I didn’t specifically mention the Germanic goddess from which comes the name of Easter. I was more talking about the other resurrection mythologies in the Mediterranean world before and during early Christianity. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some crossover or shared influences between Northern Europe and further south. The Scandinavians had trade routes that connected with Egypt in the millennia before the Axial Age — by the way, this included trade of blue glass that was only made in Egypt.

In thinking about Easter, I can’t help noticing the similarity of the name Isis, a virgin mother goddess related to spring and resurrection (her tears for Osiris’ death cause the spring flooding of the Nile and of course that brings back life). Isis was also known as Meri and, as her worship was extremely popular in the Roman Empire, probably was the inspiration for Mother Mary worship, considering many of the early European statues of Mary were originally Isis statues.

Many have talked about the Jesus myth in terms of individuation. That is definitely a story about nature, nurture, and torture. Then Jesus as Christ, following crucifixion and resurrection, is taken by his believers to literally be the key to God’s Kingdom. As Pinocchio the marionette becomes a boy, Jesus the man becomes God. That takes the key theory to a whole new level. It’s not just about the reality of identity but of the world itself. For those who have eyes to see, the Kingdom of God is all around us. We each are made into keys to the Kingdom by partaking of Jesus’ sacrifice through his body and blood, in the form of bread and wine. We take in and internalize that suffering which then magically transforms us and connects us to a greater reality.

Such is Christian belief, anyway. The notion of torture as fulfillment of becoming is an ancient motif. That is true at least since the Axial Age. Similar mythological patterns can be found earlier, but it’s not certain what they might have meant. Prior to the Axial Age focus on individualism, what could development of self involved and toward what kind of self.

GOP Base vs Traditional Conservatives

There is some interesting data from Pew. I had looked at this data many times before, but in looking at it again I noticed a distinction within the conservative demographics which I hadn’t noticed previously. This distinction seems to at least partly explain why many moderate conservatives have left the GOP in recent years and why some of the most strongest conservatives are also the most critical of other conservatives.

What is interesting is which specific demographics most strongly support torture and the Patriot Act. It’s most particularly clear with the latter. Conservative demographic groups (Enterprisers, Social Conservatives, & Pro-Govt Conservatives) have the strongest support for the Patriot Act. That isn’t surprising, but what is surprising is which specific conservative demographic groups have majority support (Enterprisers & Social Conservatives) and which don’t (Pro-Govt Conservatives).

Let me explain.

Enterprisers are essentially neo-cons, neo-liberals, and (neo-) libertarians which demographically translates as mostly rich white males who have partisan loyalty to the GOP and who are the most loyal viewers of Fox News. Social Conservatives are essentially the fundamentalists and rightwingers in general which demographically translates as older whites who represent the other big chunk of Republican voters. Both groups are known to criticize the government for different reasons and yet both love the idea of a strong military (the military, rather than democracy, being the symbol of their ideal government). They may use pro-constitutional rhetoric in their criticizing the government, but ultimately they don’t take the constitution all that seriously when it comes to protecting human rights and freedom for all.

It’s telling that Pro-Govt Conservatives are the one conservative demographic group that doesn’t have majority support for the Patriot Act. That is a very telling detail. To be a conservative who actually believes in the government serving a positive function means to be a conservative who also genuinely believes in strictly adhering to the constitution and to the moral vision upon which this country was founded. This is the group that I consider as being ‘real’ conservatives in that they are more moderate and traditional (i.e., they believe in conserving social institutions such as government) compared to the radicalized element within the GOP. But these down-to-earth conservatives don’t get as much attention as they’re too reasonable. Also, despite being the most traditional of conservatives, they aren’t the base of the Republican Party. In fact, they are almost evenly split between Republicans and Independents (which is the same role the Liberal demographic group plays in the Democratic Party).

The fact that traditional conservatives (traditional in the larger historical sense) are the least supportive of the Republican Party says a lot about what has become of the party that supposedly represents ‘conservatives’. It also explains a lot about why traditional conservatism is ignored in America. The GOP doesn’t care about traditional conservatives as much because it isn’t their base. These conservatives are the poor and working class people. Unlike the wealthy Enterprisers, they don’t have lots of money to donate to political campaigns. And, unlike the upper middle class Tea Party supporters, they don’t make for entertaining media coverage. These people are too busy just trying to get by and going by the media you would hardly know they existed.

Related to this, I was comparing conservatives between the parties. It might surprise some people to see how many conservatives there are in the Democratic Party. In particular, poor minorities living in the South are extremely conservative and yet loyal Democrats. Rightwingers like to argue that only liberal Democrats want big government for social issues, but government being involved with social issues has always been a traditional conservative position. Why are liberal Democrats defending the traditionally conservative role of the government as an institution upholding social order and the public good? Maybe because it’s in the nature of liberals in general to defend the powerless when attacked by the powerful.

So, what exactly is traditional conservatism?

Here is a very good explanation/description:

Conservative? Americans Don’t Know the Meaning of the Word
Guy Molyneux

True conservatism is a philosophy committed to conserving– conserving families, communities and nation in the face of change. Committed to preserving fundamental values, such as accountability, civic duty and the rule of law. And committed to a strong government to realize these ends. What passes for conservatism in America today bears only a passing resemblance to this true conservatism. It worships at the twin altars of free enterprise and weak government–two decidedly unconservative notions.

Real conservatism values security and stability over the unfettered free market. In Germany, for example, it was the conservative Otto von Bismark–not socialists–who developed social insurance and built the world’s first welfare state. Today conservatives throughout the world–but not here–endorse government-provided national health care, because they recognize public needs are not always met by the private sector. And they see a role for government in encouraging national economic development.

A true conservative movement would not ignore the decay of our great cities, or see the disorder of the Los Angeles riots only as a political opportunity. Nor would they pay homage to “free trade” while the nation’s manufacturing base withered. Nor would a conservative President veto pro-family legislation requiring companies to provide leave to new mothers, in deference to business prerogatives.

Traditional conservatives champion community and nation over the individual. They esteem public service, and promote civic obligation. They reject the “invisible hand” argument, that everyone’s pursuit of individual self-interest will magically yield the best public outcome, believing instead in deliberately cultivating virtue. Authentic conservatives do not assail 55 m.p.h. speed limits and seat-belt laws as encroaching totalitarianism.

Finally, a genuine conservatism values the future over the present. It is a movement of elites to be sure, but of elites who feel that their privilege entails special obligations. The old word for this was “stewardship”–the obligation to care for the nation’s human and natural resources, and to look out for future generations’ interests.

Such conservatives would not open up public lands for private commercial exploitation, or undermine environmental regulations for short-term economic growth. They would not cut funding for childrens’ vaccinations, knowing that the cost of treating illness is far greater. And a conservative political party would never preside over a quadrupling of the national debt.

In America, then, what we call conservatism is really classical liberalism: a love of the market, and hatred of government. Adam Smith, after all, was a liberal, not a conservative. As the economist Gunnar Myrdal once noted: “America is conservative . . . but the principles conserved are liberal.”

American conservatives have often celebrated the country’s historically “exceptional” character: the acceptance of capitalism and the absence of any significant socialist movement. Curiously, though, they often miss their half of the story: the absence of a real Tory conservatism. What Louis Hartz called America’s “liberal consensus” excluded both of the great communitarian traditions–ain’t nobody here but us liberals.

True conservatism’s weakness as a political tradition in America is thus an old story. When values confront the market here, the market usually wins. In recent years, though, conservative social values seem to have been eclipsed. Many of today’s conservatives are really libertarians–proponents of a radical individualism that has little in common with conservatism.

Gitmo: The New Rules of War

Pierre-Richard Prosper said: “We’re applying the Geneva Conventions, but he by his conduct has not earned the benefits or privileges of being labelled a prisoner of war.”

That is some evil sounding rhetoric.

It’s my understanding that, according to Geneva Conventions, either someone is or is not a prisoner of war. A person doesn’t have to earn the benefits and privileges of being a prisoner of war. If you are being detained by a government because of allegations of involvment in fighting against that government, then you are by definition a prisoner of war.

Basically, Prosper is saying that the US government doesn’t care about international law and will apply it at whim without any explanation. Prosper doesn’t even explain the US policy about how someone earns the right to be treated like a human.

Prosper in this next video argues that we’re in an unconventional war that is against a private organization rather than a state. If that is the case, why did we invade and occupy two countries? And this is further confusing since the US government and other governments are increasingly relying upon private organiztions as mercenaries. Are we getting to the point where governments are stepping away from taking any responsibility of the wars they start and the killing they cause? In the future, governments will pull the strings behind the scenes while private organizations fight other private organizations. Meanwhile, innocent citizens will be caught in the middle.

Anarcho-capitalists argue only governments can fight wars and not private organizations, but I fear they are sadly wrong. If there is another world war (not of the cold war variety), it quite likely could be between private organizations that have no loyalty to any specific nation and so would have no responsibility to any specific citizenry. The private organizations who fight the wars could be the same that own the media. Just imagine if Blackwater became an large international mercenary force and imagine that it was owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Great Nations & Proud People

I just finished watching the film As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me. It’s supposedly based on a true story of a German soldier who after being captured spent several years in Siberia. He escaped and travelled thousands of miles on foot in order to get back home. It was a good movie. Of course, it was predictable in that I knew he was going to escape, but I didn’t mind.

What interested me about it was the soldier’s perspective. The Nazis were known to have committed horrendous violence in the concentration camps, but this was a story about a Nazi soldier who wasn’t a part of any of that. That is the way of wars. The average soldier doesn’t really know what they’re fighting for. This particular soldier apparently was fighting Russian soldiers and the Russians were as brutal as the Germans. In school, we’re taught to hate all Nazis, but I didn’t find it hard to sympathize with this soldier’s misfortune. War sucks for everyone. There are rarely good and bad guys in any war… or rather the good guys are whichever side happens to win.

I was thinking about WWII from the viewpoint of the average Nazi and the average German in general. I’m sure everyone knew Jews were shipped off, but I doubt many Germans knew what became of the Jews. Originally, the Nazis simply tried to give the Jews to other countries, but most countries including the US refused to save the lives of Jews. As a US citizen, I accept the fact that my government was complicit in the killing of Jews. My government knew what the Nazis were doing, but the fact of the matter is no government cared about the Jews. The war was never about the Jews… similarly to how the Civil War ultimately wasn’t about slavery. Wars are always about political power.

Anyways, how was the average German any worse than the average American? In the US, our government put Japanese Americans into camps just like the Germans put Jews into camps. Did Americans protest this unconstitutional infringement of the civil rights of their fellow citizens? No. Did the average American know for sure what happened to the Japanese Americans after they were shipped away? No. Did they know that their government didn’t just kill the Japanese Americans? No. Would there have been a protest if the Japanese Americans had been killed? I truly doubt it.

I think of the US soldiers right now over in Afghanistan and Iraq fighting pointless wars that can’t be won. The attack on Iraq was as immoral as any other war. We aren’t liberators of the Iraqi people. If they had greeted us as liberators, the war would already be ended. If we had actually seen our role as liberators, we wouldn’t have killed so many innocent people. Between the US military and the CIA, just try to imagine the countless number of innocent people who have been killed by the orders of our government, just try to imagine all of the death squads and puppet dictators we’ve put in place (such as Saddam Hussein).

I also think of all the violence of all countries that has happened since WWII. Once the world learned of the genocide against the Jews, there was a collective response of: “Never again!”. Yet, genocide has happened again and again over the decades. The US government didn’t intervene when it learned of the genocide against the Jews and the US government hasn’t intervened when any of the other genocides have happened since. Basically, the US government and most major governments couldn’t care less. And the average American, like the average German, ignorantly believes what their governments tell them, what the media tells them. No one ever cares until it happens to them personally.

The US government sentenced Japanese soldiers to death for waterboarding US soldiers. And what have we done? The US military is now in the business of torturing. Even Democrats were reluctant to question the morality of torture prisons and the Republicans were patriotically proud of being immoral assholes. The biggest supporters of torture in the US were Christians. Seriously! What the fuck!?! We are the evil we think we’re fighting. We are the country that puts bases around the world and attack any country we don’t like whether or not we have a good justification. We’re the only country that dropped nuclear bombs on large cities of innocent civilians. We Americans have nothing to be proud of. Each of us has blood on our hands. It’s your money, its my money that has paid for the killing of hundreds of thousands or maybe even millions of innocent people over the decades.

I’m not saying we are more evil than any other people in the world. We aren’t. We have simply let power go to our heads and we’ve stopped demanding our leaders live up to our own moral ideals. We are just people like all people. That is my point. Our country is no different than Germany. Once upon a time, Germany was much like the US in being wealthy and valuing human rights. It was a democracy and the German people were proud of being a great people. That is the point. Only a great country can commit great evil.

So, yes, America is a great country… and that is the danger. In any democracy, a fascist government is only ever one vote away from becoming reality.

U.S. Democracy: Defined and Discussed

Democracy.  I’m not sure I understand what it is entirely, and I’m not sure anyone does.  I sometimes even doubt that the US government is a Democracy.  In the US, Democracy has become identified with the concept of the Free Market and in the last century the Federal Government has become indistinguishable from the Military-Industrial Complex.

When Fascism was the top enemy, the prevailing mood in the US had a Socialist bent.  When Communism was the top enemy, the prevailing mood in the US switched to a faith in Capitalism.  Democracy is always trying to find the balance between Fascism and Communism, big business and big government.  In modern US Democracy, the main choice isn’t between centralized power vs localized power.  Both Republicans and Democrats are for centralized power.  The choice is whether a Federal Government has power over Mega-Corporations or else that Mega-Corporations manipulate the Federal Government to their own ends.  In reality, it’s probably both at the same time because the same people are working in both sectors.

Originally, the main choice the Founding Fathers faced was between centralized government vs localized power.  The Republicans used to be Libertarians, but Libertarianism was also mired in an agrarian capitalism based on slavery.  Many of the Founding Fathers believed that slavery needed to end.  They chose not to end it themselves because they thought the inefficiency of the system would lead the Free Market to end it with no intervention.  They were partly true (with the help of other governments illegalizing the slave trade), but there refusal to stand up for civil rights in the face of what was big business of the times meant that a couple centuries of African-Americans suffered as second-class citizens.  Despite its failings in the past, Libertarianism does seem to be needed to offer balance in US Democracy.  With the increased ability of citizens to organize locally because of technology, maybe there will be an increase in Libertarianism… but it will take a major shift before the public can loosen the grip of the Federal Government and Mega-Corporations (to simplify, they can be referred to in their singular form as the Military-Industrial Complex).

Part of my point is that Democracy isn’t limited to any one thing.  Or rather Democracy is a little bit of everything.  I suppose it fits in with the Melting Pot ideal.  The original immigrants came from many different countries and cultures, and so they had very different views about government.  By voting, supposedly the best ideas and people would rise to the top.

The reason it doesn’t actually work this way in reality is because the Founding Fathers were ultimately creating a Plutocracy rather than a Meritocracy.  American Plutocracy is essentially a limited Meritocracy that serves the wealthy and powerful.  It relates to the ideal of the Disinterested Aristocracy.  These men were supposedly the best of the best and so deserved their power.  And the corresponding idea was that the poor and powerless were obviously less worthy.

How this works is that power remains in the hands of a specific elite class by being handed down the generations within the same set of families (list of United States political families).  This is why many presidents were either of royal lineage or married to someone of royal lineage (list of United States Presidents by genealogical relationship).  This is also why Obama (the proclaimed underdog representing Afrcan-Americans) has 6 US presidents as cousins including his seeming ideological opposite Bush jr.  I’ve even heard someone recently make an argument (a very old argument I should add) that Social Darwinism is based on Genetic Darwinism.  Basically, the rich and powerful theoretically have better genetics.  The argument is that centuries of a self-imposed breeding program of inter-family alliances has breed a class of superior humans.  I know this sounds silly or even scary, but it wouldn’t surprise me if many people (in power) believe in some variation of this.  It should be kept in mind that before the US became involved in WWII, many Americans were proponents of the Nazi ideal of eugenics.  Eugenics had even been practiced in the US on a small scale for a time (through forced sterilizations).

I want to shift the focus here.  Many argue that Democracy is a bad system that just so happens to be better than all of the other possibilities.  That is a cynical response that actually resonates with me.  Maybe Democracy is good enough despite its failings.  The problem with Democracy is that any form of government can appear like a Democracy and yet only be a facade.  A Democracy could even originally have been genuine and be taken over by un-Democratic forces and few people would likely notice.  Some would argue (myself included) that this might’ve already happened here in the US.

A major criticism of Democracy is that it’s inefficient and only shows positive results (if at all) over long periods of time.  It’s hard to know if a Democracy is actually working at any given moment because all of the disagreement makes it hard for anything to get implemented.  If and when things do get implemented, they no longer even look like the original proposal and nobody is happy with it.  Socialism and Fascism are much quicker methods of creating change.  Centralized power has the benefit of getting things done often with very positive results (in the short run at least).  The trains arrive on time and whole economies can be lifted out of slumps by a single decision.  Democracy forsakes quick fixes for a long-term vision of social improvement.  The theory is that it’s better to protect the Democratic principles than to sacrifice them every time a problem arises.  Unfortunately, politicians want results because their popularity depends on results (or appearance results).  Everyone wants results… especially when people feel under pressure or under threat.  There is nothing like collective fear to inspire people to throw Democracy out the window and to give politicians leeway to take actions they would never dare to do in other situations.

Many examples can be given.  Much of the US politics in the 20th century was a constant undermining and endangering of Democracy.  It was the century when the alphabet agencies gained immense power.  The issue with these agencies (and the same for the military) is that they’re non-Democratic entities (in that they’re not a part of the voting system).  Also, it’s hard for the Democratic parts of the government (such as Congress) to provide appropriate oversight of agencies that operate through secrecy.  Often the Federal Government has their own personal reasons to ensure the alphabet agencies’ secrecy.  For example, Obama didn’t want (and didn’t want his name involved with having) certain information shared with the public because it would create a negative mood (towards his popularity and towards his political agendas).  The question is whether the CIA, military, or private contractors broke the law (national or international), but this can only be answered if there is an investigation (which Obama doesn’t want).

The problem is that Democratic civil rights and state secrecy are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum… one functions to the degree that the other doesn’t. It’s true that state secrecy is a practical necessity, but I would add that it’s also a very dangerous slippery slope and for that reason should be used sparingly.  A Democracy in order to survive has to protect itself from non-Democratic influences and sadly this means it must at times use non-Democratic methods.  For example, to fight terrorists we have to be willing to fight dirty when there is no other alternative.  However, we should never forget what we’re fighting for.  If we sacrifice our ideals and standards, then the enemy has won by causing us to become like them.

Furthermore, we have to be patient because I pointed out Democracy works best when the longterm vision is kept in mind.  We shouldn’t allow ourselves to get pulled into just reacting to the momentary situation.

To illustrate, I’ll discuss the torture issue which is specifically what motivated me to write this post.  Yes, we face dangers from terrorists, but it’s important to keep in mind that torture hasn’t saved us from any imminent threats.  By torturing, we are sacrificing our ideals and standards, and also just plain going against national and international law (or at best walking on the knife edge of legality).  Plus, as the most powerful nation in the world, our example holds great weight.  What we do gives moral justification for others to do the same.  This of course includes what others will do to US soldiers when they’re captured.  By torturing foreigners, we endanger our own soldiers (and also citizens travelling or living abroad).  If we are making such massive sacrifices, we better be sure we’re gaining some massive benefits.  So, exactly what are the benefits?  Maybe we’ve gained some intel, but it isn’t clear that we’ve gained much that is usable in and of itself.  Without traditional intelligence gathering (such as spies and informants), information gained by torture is useless because it can’t be verified.  The problem is that the US has supposedly been reducing in recent decades traditional inelligence gathering techniques.  The advantage of these latter techniques is that they don’t require us to sacrifice our ideals and standards nor do they require us to break laws nor do they require us to endanger the lives of our soldiers.

Also, if we had emphasized traditional intellgence gathering techniques in recent decades, we’d have been more prepared and might’ve even prevented the 9/11 attack in the first place.  Torturing, at best, was our agencies trying to play quick catch-up which is a very bad way of going about things.  On top of that, there was the problem of information not being shared between agencies.  That is the problem of secrecy.  Even these secretive agencies end up keeping secrets from eachother because holding secrets means holding onto power.

There are very good reasons that we have these ideals, standards and laws… other than basic morality and civil rights.  The world learned the hard way why torture is a bad thing.  During WWII, there occurred some of the most gruesome fighting, terrorism and torture the world has ever seen.  Governments realized that there needed to be rules of war because when given free reign people do very horrible things to each other.  The history of WWII makes serial killers look like child’s play.  Trust me, we don’t want to see a repeat of WWII.  International laws against torture were created for very very very good reasons.  I can’t emphasize that too much.  Enough said.

Anyways, torture is as anti-Democratic as one can get.  Leave torture to the bad guys and let’s try to retain our moral highground (whatever is left of it).  Some might ask why we should care if our enemies are tortued.  I would respond that history shows us how easily and how quickly a citizen can become an enemy of the state.  If you think it can’t happen to you, you are sadly naive.  Go study some history.

There is always an uneasy truce between violence and Democracy.  Freedom when threatened has to be defended by force.  That is how the US became a Democracy.  But that very same force can easily be turned back against Democracy.  The Founding Fathers  and Americans in general were wary of having a standing army.  After victory, the Continental Army was quickly disbanded except for two remaining regiments to guard the Western frontier and West Point’s arsenal.  What protection was needed was given by state militias.

This would’ve been fine if the country had remained small instead of expanding, but conflicts with Native Americans required re-establishing a standing army.  The standing army served the purpose of Manifest Destiny.  Our country had a vision and everyone better get out of our way.  The standing army was mostly used to establish and defend the ever expanding frontier.  But it was only a few decades after defeating our external enemies that the standing army was turned against internal enemies.  The Civil War gave the Federal government power like never before.  The Libertarian country established by the Founding Fathers was officially ended.  In it’s place, the US government started toying with the idea of international power and in a few decades the US was becoming a player in the game of international war.  We were no longer just defending our freedom but were now extending our power.  Afterall, you can’t just let your standing army sit idle.  When you have power, there is strong allure to find justification for using it.  What good is power if you don’t use it?  The Founding Fathers offered some intelligent answers to that question (here are some of Jefferson’s opinions on the subject of democratic freedom and military power).

The Founding Fathers preferred not to have standing army at all during times of peace, but they were especially against a standing army being entirely under the control of the President.  Because of this, Congress was given the sole power to declare war.  However, you may have noticed that Presidents such as Bush jr have bypassed Congressional oversight by starting wars without having them declared.  Pretty sneaky.  The purpose of Congress is to enforce oversight so this doesn’t happen, and yet Congress willingly bowed down to this usurpation of power.  This is how collective fear combined with powermongering slowly erodes away Democracy.  It’s interesting that Bush jr superficially played the traditional role of the Disinterested Aristocrat who rules by serving the greater good (idealized by the Founding Fathers) all the while gathering power to the presidency and undermining Democratic values.  The ideal of Disinterested Aristocracy (which I wrote about previously) sounds lovely and maybe worked in early America when the Federal government had very little power, but in contemporary politics it has great potential for abuse.

Democracy.  So, what exactly is it?  That is still uncertain to me.  There is a more important question to ask.  What is our Democracy becoming?  What are we collectively becoming?

Justice Dept. Report Advises Pursuing C.I.A. Abuse Cases

My God!  Could there actually be justice in this country?  People in power beng held to account for their actions, the government enforcing its own legal and ethical standards, a country obeying the international laws it agreed to… what is the world coming to?

Justice Dept. Report Advises Pursuing C.I.A. Abuse Cases

By DAVID JOHNSTON

The Justice Department’s ethics office has recommended
reversing the Bush administration and reopening nearly a
dozen prisoner-abuse cases, potentially exposing Central
Intelligence Agency employees
and contractors to prosecution
for brutal treatment of terrorism suspects, according to a
person officially briefed on the matter.

The recommendation centers mainly on allegations of detainee
abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. It now seems all but certain
that the appointment of a prosecutor or other concrete steps
will follow.

Review: Taxi to the Dark Side

This is one of the best documentaries I’ve watched in a long time. It made a powerful case against the Bush administration. If you could still support torture after watching this, then there is something seriously wrong with you. 

It was surprisingly balanced and nuanced. The soldiers who did the torturing were given the opportunity to speak and they weren’t painted as simply bad people. However, I was saddened to hear how they rationalized it at the time. One soldier seemed to still not understand that what he did was wrong. His only complaint was that he got into trouble for doing his job and wished someone had given more clear orders.

I’m not shocked because this is typical of human nature as has been shown by psychological research, but it certainly doesn’t give me much hope for humanity. If you set up another torture prison right now, you could find soldiers to do the same thing all over again. Humans are sad creatures.

However, a major point of the documentary is that we’re all to blame. The government lied, the media parroted the propaganda talking points, and the American public embraced it righteously. The truly sad part is where it’s pointed out that our own war of independence was fought to stop this very kind of civil rights issue. We’ve become the oppressor. Apparently, it’s time for a new revolution.

One last point of interest is the connection with CIA research. The CIA program MKULTRA studied brainwashing techniques that involved torture techniques. The CIA had been reigned in from it’s past illegal activities, but that all went out the window with 9/11. There was a culture within the government that was rooted in these past covert projects.  And don’t forget that Bush sr was originally a CIA director.

By the way, the documentary mentions that the US detainees now numbers at 83,000 since 2001.

Morality: Christians vs. Jesus

AS ALWAYS… I’ve been thinking about Christianity.  My mind often returns to the moral issue because there are many glaring moral failures in Christianity’s history… which are magnified by the radicalness of Jesus’ moral ideals.  But lately I was considering morality in terms of modern Christians.  This is a difficult subject.  I’ve been contemplating what Christianity precisely is.  Over the years, I’ve studied many of the early Christian texts and the scholarship about them, but I still feel rather confused about it all.

CHRISTIANITY?

Christianity doesn’t seem for the most part to be based on Jesus’ teachings.  As far as I can tell, Jesus wasn’t attempting to found a religion, build churches, start a social movement, create a cultural identity, or be the justification for the ideal of a Christian nation.  Going by gospels, I would say he was doing something apparently quite opposite to all of that.  Whatever Christianity (as an organized religious institution) may be, it is not a religion based on Jesus’ life and preaching.

I don’t mean Christians aren’t moral and don’t contribute positively to society.  My point is that Jesus was teaching a specific moral attitude that (if I understand it correctly) few Christians attempt to follow.  I sometimes doubt whether most Christians even understand what is written of Jesus in the New Testament.  Many probably don’t read Jesus’ words carefully and in their entirety.  I also suspect that the average Christian trusts the opinion of authorities over their own interpretive abilities (whether that of church authorities, religious teachers, or apologetic writers).  And certainly it’s a rare Christian who thoroughly studies the complexities of New Testament scholarship (including more secular scholarship such as the Jesus Seminar). 

Jesus preached all kinds of crazy ideas.  He taught people to not carry money but to sell all that they own and give their money to the poor, to leave their families, to let the dead bury themselves, to love their enemies, to challenge authority and not to place oneself as an authority over others, etc.  But Jesus also preached relatively less crazy ideas.  He taught people to treat others as they would like to be treated, to not swear oaths (which is actually quite radical considering our whole political and legal system is based on it), to not worship idols (and I doubt he was hoping himself to be worshipped as an idol), to not pray in public nor in temples (which undermines institutional Christianity), etc.  And Jesus said much else as well.  There are plenty of apparent contradictions to be found for anyone wishing to look.  Which statements are authentic?  Which are the most essential?  How to interpret them and live by them?

CHRISTIANS?

I know a Christian who has argued for torture and for the dropping of nuclear bombs in WWII.  I once told him about prisoners of war who while in custody were killed by soldiers and he thought it was excusable because the soldiers were angry.  WTF!?!  On the other hand, he donates his money and time to worthy causes.  He even has volunteered at soup kitchens.  He considers himself a good Christian and is very active in his church.  He wrote to me recently that the torture issue is just a blip, but I doubt Jesus would consider it a blip.  Heck, a major part of Jesus’ life was his being wrongly tortured.  Jesus told his followers to not meet violence with violence but rather to turn the other cheek.  Jesus was very clear on this particular point and I don’t see any other way to interpret it.

I don’t mean to be harsh on this person in using him as an example.  I think he is a typical Christian and does genuinely try to be a good person as he understands it.  Also, there are reasonable arguments that morally justify such things as torture and atomic bombs.  I understand how fear motivates people to take extreme actions and I understand that sometimes life seems to force us to choose the lesser of evils.  The problem is that these aren’t Christian moral justifications and in fact are clearly anti-Christian.

As I see it, you’re either a Christian or you’re not.  If you don’t want to try to live up to the standards that Jesus set, then don’t try and don’t call yourself Christian.  It’s understandable that people fail to meet such high standards (impossibly high?).  It seems to me that being Christian isn’t easy… or maybe you’re doing it wrong if it seems easy.  As I see it, there is little excuse for someone claiming to be Christian to not try to follow Jesus’ example.  There is even less excuse for them to argue for immoral behavior that completely opposes everything Jesus stood for. 

STANDARDS & VIEWS

Am I being too judgmental?  What is the point of having so high of standards?  Well, I’d answer that it’s not I but Jesus who sets the bar so high.  To be honest, I’m uncertain about what good are Jesus’ teachings especially for the average person in the world today.  But I’m not the one arguing that Jesus’ teachings should be the moral standard of our entire society.  I really can’t see how Jesus teachings could be applicable beyond the level of personal choices.  I’d go so far as to say that the moment someone tries to base upon Jesus’ life any institution or law they’ve already betrayed what Jesus stood for.  Jesus was teaching absolute sacrifice, complete transformation of all that we understand and value.  Jesus wasn’t teaching personal betterment or the upholding of social order.  Jesus for damn sure wasn’t teaching family values.  I find it particularly funny (or exasperating) when a Christian brings up family values.  Jesus said he came to turn family members against each other.  The closest thing that Jesus came to family values probably was when he spoke of divorce, but he considered remarriage adultery and if followed that would create many single parents.

To try to live according to the gospels would be difficult… and I suppose to completely live as such would be nigh impossible.  It would probably demand being an ascetic (homeless, wandering, and poverty-stricken) who dedicates his every action and thought to love and salvation.  Such a person would have to forever put other people before themselves including a willingness to completely trust God in even the most minor of decisions.  I can’t say I would want to try to live such a life, but there are Christians who have genuinely tried to live this way.  I don’t know if they’re better people than the rest of us for their radical lifestyle.  Still, at least they’re being true to what Jesus taught.

I realize there are arguments for why not all Christians need to live this way.  People tend to emphasize certain parts of the New Testament over other parts.  You get a different Jesus if you emphasize the Jewish elements… or if you emphasize the Pauline elements… or if you try to harmonize all of it… or if you look past all of the centuries of interpolation and interpretation.

Different views of “Christianity” became mixed up in the first and second centuries (and arguments have been made for one or the another being the original true Christianity), but that is an issue more complex than I wish to deal with here.   At this point, this whole discussion begins to devolve into doubts about what it even means to be a Christian (and even what Jesus really said and meant).  Nonetheless, despite how little we know of Jesus and early Christians, I still hold to my opinion that few Christians after the (supposed) life of Jesus have come even close to living up to his teachings (or else  the teachings written in his name). 

Maybe that is why the early Catholics struck upon the genius of emphasizing original sin above almost all else.  If we’re all sinners who are incapable of doing good beyond submitting our willpowers to the rule of the Church, then Christians don’t actually have to try to follow Jesus’ example.  We can do horrendous things to each other and we’ll still be forgiven.  Water-boarding and nuclear bombs for everyone until Jesus returns.  Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord!

SWORD OR PEACE?

I find it rather telling that many Christians turn to Jewish scriptures when they want moral certainty, and Jewish scriptures are much more open to violence and punishment.  However, I tend to disagree with the arguments for a Jewish Jesus.  The Jewish scriptures seemed to have been only at best of secondary relevance to Jesus, and in many ways they’re contrary to what many have understood to be a radically new message.  The first New Testament canonwas created (by the Gnostic Marcion) in order to clarify the uniqueness of Jesus message as a religion independent of (and opposing to) the legalism and wordliness of the Jewish scriptures (with Yahweh being the god of this world who keeps his followers in line through reward and punishment).  Jesus moral teachings are quite different in that there aren’t simple answers, and to turn to Jewish scriptures for simple answers is to miss the point.  For example, if Jesus believed in Jewish family values, then he would’ve himself married and had children as was expected of Jewish Rabbis.  Also, his denying his own mother doesn’t exactly demonstrate a pro-family attitude.  With the stated purpose of creating familial conflict, Jesus said that he came to send a sword rather than peace.

There obviously are arguments for Jesus supporting (or at least not always denouncing) violence.  Jesus uses sword imagery quite a bit, and it’s hard to explain why a supposed pacifist would rely so heavily on symbols of violence… although he could be attempting to transform physical objects into spiritual symbols and thus negating their violent meaning.  However, Jesus did at one point tell his followers to sell their robes and buy swords.  In this passage, there is a reference to “two swords” which is what the Judean siccari carried in fighting the Romans.  But later in this same chapter Jesus rejected the use of swords.  Did he change his mind or were his words remembered incorrectly? 

Another interesting passage is where Jesus says to turn the other cheek.  The custom was only to hit with the right hand because the left was reserved for unclean activities.  Also, the custom was to backhand inferiors which meant hitting the left cheek.  To offer your right cheek, would force the attacker to punch or slap which was only done between equals.  More importantly, this would be an invitation to fight back.  So, turning your cheek could simply be a refusal to play the role of the inferior or it could be a challenge to a fight. 

Furthermore, one of the most famous deeds of Jesus is his going on a wild rampage through the temple.  Why would a pacifist act this way?  To give some context, the Roman soldiers that came to arrest Jesus numbered at least 500 and possibly much higher.  Why would such a massive force be needed to arrest a pacifist?

Even if Jesus wasn’t entirely opposed to violence, few modern Christians refer to these passages to rationalize acts of violence… although, going by President Bush’s rhetoric, holy war is still a popular concept.  The Christian guy I mentioned earlier said he thought that the temple incident may not be true because it seems out of character.  The question is out of character from what?  Out of character from our modern expectations of Jesus?  Or out of character with the New Testament in general?  The problem is that many of Jesus’ sayings and deeds can seem out of character when placed next to eachother.  The New Testament is filled with seeming contradictions.  Maybe Jesus character is no different than any other human.  Maybe Jesus was inconsistent and changed his mind like humans are wont to do.  Still, Jesus does overall seem more of a pacifist than not.  And, despite certain unclear passages, Jesus obviously wasn’t the warrior-king messiah that many Jews were hoping for.  It’s for certain, anyways, that many Christians seem to want him to be a pacifist which makes it even odder when those same Christians formulate other arguments for violence.

WHAT BOTHERS ME

Whatever Jesus may or may not have been, I guess what bothers me isn’t so much whether someone feels able or willing to live according to the gospels.  There are at least two elements to what really bothers me.  First, Christians read their scriptures very selectively and tend to give less emphasis to the radical aspects of Jesus.  But this is probably similar to people in all religions.  Second, the compartmentalization of how Christians separate their religion from other parts of their life.  But I’d say this self-division is common to all people in various ways.  So, why should I pick on Christians in particular?  The main reason is because I live in a largely Christian society.  I grew up Christian and surrounded by Christians.  Christianity is what I’ve studied and what I know.  Christians are who I deal with the most.

I understand that many Christians try to be moral… whether or not they’re actually following the teachings of Jesus.  However, does being a Christian simply mean being a generally good person?  If so, how is a Christian any different than anyone else who is generally good?  I sense for most Christians it’s just a cultural identity which isn’t problematic in and of itself, but a cultural identity doesn’t personally inspire me.  The thing is what does it mean to be a good Christian?  If even good Christians kill, torture, and drop atom bombs (and morally justify these), then in what way is Christianity superior?  This is a profound question when one considers how Jesus was tortured and killed and how Christianity spread partly through even worse forms of violence.

So what?  Many Christians are hypocrites and much of Christian history is blatant hypocrisy.  That isn’t a new insight.  What’s the big deal?  This is just the way humans are.  The hypocrisy that bothers me seems to be inherent to the human condition, andChristians are humans afterall.  I’m also human and I don’t lack sympathy for the failings of humanity, but I don’t abide righteousness well.  My beef is that too many Christians have a superior attitude… obviously if they didn’t believe their religion was superior then there wouldn’t be much point in being a Christian (rather than any other arbitrary religious affiliation).  Then again, having a superiority complex is just another common human attribute.  Maybe I’m wrong to expect Christians to live up to their own righteous ideals moreso than anyone else. 

I’m no moral exemplar myself… but the difference between certain Christians and myself is that I don’t seek to morally justify actions that are morally questionable (such as torture).  I realize, from a practical standpoint, there are potentially “moral” reasons for violence used selectively.  Modern people often use a facade of utilitarianism to rationalize otherwise immoral actions.  Utilitarianism is the attempt to seek the greatest good for the greatest numbers, and it’s hard to argue against that in principle.  However, it’s a slippery slopeWith it, justifications can be made to torture someone to prevent them from setting off a nuclear bomb for example.  And, also with it, justifications can be made to drop a nuclear bomb on them pre-emptively. 

The question is whose greater good are we serving?  The greater good of our particular group or the greater good of humanity?  And, from a Christian perspective, doesn’t utilitarianism (when used to trump Jesus’ teachings) come dangerously close to undermining the entire basis of Christianity?  The Christian is commanded to serve the higher good of God and the higher good of loving his fellow man.  If we must do violence to eachother on this planet we share, I’d rather we not pretend that it’s a matter of morality.

A DEEPER ISSUE, AN ESSENTIAL TRUTH

Along with moral hypocrisy, I want to focus on a deeper issue of human nature, the compartmentalization I mentioned above.  I first came to understand this from reading Derrick Jensen’s A Language Older Than Words.  Jensen shows how easy it is to become divided within oneself.  This is particularly a problem for modern people.  In the world today, life is splintered into so many factors of society and so many fields of knowledge.  A person learns about one thing in school and another thing at church.  A person knows one set of people at work and another set of people at church.  People make decisions that affect others who they’ve never met and who they know nothing about.  Soldiers go to far off lands and kill strangers because another stranger in a position of authority told them to do so.  The challenge of morality is that humans aren’t designed to deal with the complexities of this global society.  Torture, killing, and nuclear bombs are unreal abstractions until they happen to you or to someone you love.  The human moral sense is unable to deal with anything outside of our immediate sphere of experience. 

Jensen uses many examples, but one is particularly relevant here.  He extensively refers to the Nazis and in one instance he writes of Nazi doctors.  There were doctors whose job was to kill people which of course included children.  Some of these doctors had families they returned to every night.  How could they inject a child with poison and then hours later play with their own children?  Psychological research shows that people have immense ability to separate different parts of our lives.  When at home, the dead children simply didn’t exist in the doctor’s mind.  Furthermore, everyone has their rationalizations.  Some of the doctors, if I remember correctly, believed they were actually helping the people they killed… which would’ve been difficult to sustain if their own children ever ended up in one of the death camps… but, as long as the two worlds could remain separate, the illusion continued.

This psychological ability to compartmentalize does have evolutionary advantages.  We identify with our group, our close relationships… and the stranger, the enemy become something less.  This tribal instinct has served man well, but religions during the Axial Age (such as Christianity) called us to a higher aspiration.  The prophets and teachers of that time spoke of caring as much about a stranger as we do about ourselves.  Afterall, we are all strangers to someone until we get to know them.  And it’s been said that behind each stranger’s face is God.  To put it bluntly, the man alone in a prison being tortured by those who know not what they do is the same as Jesus on the cross.  No one deserves torture, and anyone who tortures another forsakes whatever is good in their heart.  As Jesus says, “What you do to the least of these, you do unto me.”

That quote of Jesus captures the essence of how many people think of Jesus.  I was talking to another person about these various issues.  I was explaining about the complexities of Jesus’ message… and lamenting about difficulty of understanding.  He argued that there is an essential truth and that the details are less important.  The idea is that, although Jesus made specific statements, they were applicable to specific people in specific situations.  Nonetheless, the message behind the words still speaks to us so many centuries later.  The problem with this is that Christians have come to different conclusions about the essential truth.  I wonder if it’s when all of the details aren’t considered fully that Christians end up rationalizing actions that don’t seem very Christian.  Then again, all of the details don’t add up to a clear message either.

Part of the confusion is that the Bible is such a mix of texts written at different times by different people.  There are at least three possible solutions to articulating a clear message:

  1. The orthodox Christians attempt to harmonize, but that just adds further problems.  Ultimately, there can be no honest harmonization between all of the contradictory details and divergent agendas.  Harmonization falls apart if you look at it too closely.  Even so, this technique has been powerfully used when filtered through centuries of orthodox interpretations and upheld by the persuasive might of Church authority.
  2. I’m more attracted to an understanding like that of Marcion  I’ve thought for a long time that there is a marked distinction between Jewish and Christian scriptures.  It’s true that Jewish ideas formed a background to early Christianity, but Christian scriptures range way beyond orthodox Jewish tradition.  Plus, I’m convinced that the main components of Christian theology and mythology have very little to do with Judaism beyond the fact that some Jews were also influenced by the same cultural milieu.  Marcion definitely understand the radicalness of Jesus’ message like few others.  Love doesn’t merely complete the law.  The God of love is entirely separate from the god of the law.
  3. Like Marcion, another early Christian who left Catholicism was Valentinus.  In some ways, Valentinus was more moderate in that he was seeking to bridge the differences between orthodoxy and Gnosticism… not that the differences were necessarily that great at the time.  On the other hand, the Gnostic vision at the heart of the Valentinian tradition is quite radical.  But even so Valentinus realized that simple faith is still good for those who lack an experience of gnosis.

CONTENTMENT AND OTHERWISE

Anyways, most Christians go for the first solution.  That is fair enough as most people aren’t looking for radical answers from their religion.  Traditionally, religion is an institution of the status quo in that it helps to promote and sustain social order.  I was thinking of someone I know who reminds me of my own mother… the stereotypical good Christian.  This woman spent her life in a helping profession.  She always has played the role of loyal wife and caring mother.  She is a simple person who has spent her life being responsible and hardworking.  She attends church regularly and she volunteers.  She is “good” in a very socially acceptable way and she seems quite content in being good.  But is contentment the same as moral goodness?  Is it inherently good to submit to a duty-bound life (i.e., the ideal of Kiersey’s SJ Temperament)?  As I see it, people like this live according to their personalities.  And this is true for everyone… but are certain personalities morally superior? 

Should we all strive to be like this?  What if someone doesn’t feel capable of being like this (such as, to pick a random example, an INFP)?  What about a person who isn’t so easily contented or who is even outright dissatisfied (such as, to pick another random example, a depressed person)?  Jesus certainly didn’t seem like a contented soul who did what was expected of him.  And neither am I of the contented variety.  The rub of the matter is that those of a discontented nature are generally not looked upon kindly by the keepers of the status quo.  If the discontented cause enough problems, they may even come to a bad end… such as being crucified… or, the equivalent in the modern world, being imprisoned/institutionalized.

This is a very personal matter for me.  I was raised with parents who lived as basically good people.  And this sense of basic goodness was instilled in me.  The difficulty for me is that I have an idealistic nature and I’ve never been contented with basic goodness.  I read A Course In Miraclesin highschool.  From this, I learned of Jesus’ radical message of love(which more or less fits in with the Valentinian tradition).  I don’t know if the Gnostics were right about the transformative power of gnosis, but I’d like to believe they were right.  I’ve read of stories of various mystics who were transformed by divine visions and dark nights of the soul, and I’m still waiting for God to reach down and bop me on the head with his magic wand.  I have had a number of visions in my life that felt quite spiritual and yet I remain untransformed.  I feel as if I’m in an endless dark night of the soul… sometimes minus the soul.  Basically, it sucks being depressed.  I wish I were able to be one of those simple good people.  I’ve tried to be that before, but it just ain’t me.  Instead, I simultaneously feel envious and critical of all of the “good” Christians in the world. 

It just seems unfair that some people can go through life feeling certain in their beliefs while others are doomed to eternal doubt.  I’m a bit biased but I’m of the opinion that the world could use more doubt.  If people more strongly doubted their own righteous convictions, then there would probably be less righteous violence in the world.  Going by my own experience and observations, there appears to be a link between suffering and compassion.  People only seem to have compassion to the degree they’ve personally suffered… not that suffering in and of itself guarantees development of compassion.

IN CONCLUSION…

I just don’t know.  I hereby confess my ignorance.  Maybe all my complaining and analysis comes to nothing.  Most likely I’m just a depressed person who thinks too much.  Oh well…