Bob Schwartz

Tag: Religion

Mark Judge and the Theology of Whistleblowing

Mark Judge has come up frequently in the matter of Brett Kavanaugh. Judge was a high school buddy of Kavanaugh’s, and has chronicled his own wild years as a teenage alcoholic. The question Judge can answer—but so far won’t—is whether Kavanagugh was mostly a “choir boy”, as Kavanaugh swears he was, or whether together they engaged in drunken and sometimes aggressive behavior.

Kavanaugh doesn’t want an FBI investigation, Trump will not order one, and the Senate Judiciary Committee did not subpoena Judge. At this point, the only way Judge will speak out is voluntarily. And he has made clear that he does not want to be involved, that he has no memory of the particular incident involving Christine Blasey Ford, and that given his health and his recovery from long-time alcoholism, his public involvement would be detrimental.

This is all to introduce a different light on the matter. Judge’s memoirs of his life and recovery, including a high school depiction of the thinly disguised “Bart O’Kavanagh”, have gotten the most attention. But Judge, a devout Catholic, has also written frequently about the Church and about the need for more theological education.

The involvement of the Church in the Kavanaugh nomination has been pretty straightforward. It is believed that he will help in advancing constitutional limits on or even banning of abortion, and so he is favored. The influential magazine America: The Jesuit Review enthusiastically endorsed him in July. Yet after yesterday’s hearings, where it became apparent to some that Kavanaugh may have been lying about the incident with Ms. Ford, America rescinded its endorsement:

The Editors: It is time for the Kavanaugh nomination to be withdrawn

While we previously endorsed the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh on the basis of his legal credentials and his reputation as a committed textualist, it is now clear that the nomination should be withdrawn….Judge Kavanaugh continues to enjoy a legal presumption of innocence, but the standard for a nominee to the Supreme Court is far higher; there is no presumption of confirmability….We continue to support the nomination of judges according to such principles—but Judge Kavanaugh is not the only such nominee available. For the good of the country and the future credibility of the Supreme Court in a world that is finally learning to take reports of harassment, assault and abuse seriously, it is time to find a nominee whose confirmation will not repudiate that lesson.

This is not, however, about the Catholic position on Kavanaugh. It is about whistleblowing. Mark Judge is in the position of a whistleblower. As a general matter of ethics and theology, that is a topic that has been widely discussed by Catholic theologians and philosophers. And as a specific topic, the Church is painfully familiar with keeping secrets (yes, sexual secrets) and the theology of handling those who might open a pathway to the painful truth.

Mark Judge has no doubt sought faithful guidance on how to proceed. That religious direction may be supplanted by legal process: it is almost certain that in a Democratic Congress, the Kavanaugh matter will be pursued in hearings, even as Kavanaugh sits on the Court. That will mean a subpoena for Judge.

Duty to yourself. Duty to others, especially the suffering. Duty to your faith. Duty to the truth. As a thoughtful Catholic Mark Judge knows, as every thoughtful person of faith knows, there are way more questions than answers.

Aretha: Listening to her you’ll never walk alone

The passing of Aretha Franklin captured the world and toppled a lot of less worthy and less uplifting stories from the news. As it should have.

After hours of relistening to her music, and reading and watching lots of moving and illuminating tributes, I haven’t much to say.

I will mention that Aretha would have been the best and most famous singer in whatever genre she chose to focus on. Instead, she ended up creating and then being royalty of modern soul music. But gospel music was her beginning and end, her alpha and omega.

In 1972, on top of a glorious string of popular singles and albums, she released the gospel album Amazing Grace. I’m not an expert on gospel music, and not a Christian, but that doesn’t matter. I have ears and a soul, and I can tell when somebody has a gift—the gift—and is channeling the spirit.

Listen, because if you are listening to Aretha, you will never walk alone.

Rep. Steve King of Iowa: I don’t want Somali Muslims working in Iowa meat-packing plants because they want consumers of pork to be sent to hell. (Or something like that.)

“I don’t want people doing my pork that won’t eat it, let alone hope I go to hell for eating pork chops.”
Rep. Steve King

Can America go for one minute—let alone one hour or day—without some hateful and ignorant politician saying something hateful and ignorant?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: You have to read this story carefully to follow the intertwined threads of hate and ignorance. Steve King thinks he is an expert on pork (which he no doubt is) and on Muslim theology (which he profoundly is not). He is probably profoundly ignorant about Christian and Jewish theology too. For Christian education he should turn to his pastor. For Jewish theology, he should turn to “the lead Jew in Congress”—whoever that is.


Politico:

Steve King singles out Somali Muslims over pork

The Iowa congressman says they shouldn’t work in his district’s meat-packing plants because they won’t eat pig products.

By KYLE CHENEY

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said Friday that he doesn’t want Somali Muslims working at meat-packing plants in his district because they want consumers of pork to be sent to hell.

In a Breitbart News radio interview, the eighth-term congressman known for his inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric, said his views were informed by a conversation with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who he called “the lead Muslim in Congress.”

King said Ellison informed him that Muslims would require “a special dispensation” from an imam in order to be able to handle pork in one of his district’s meat-packing plants. “The rationale is that if infidels are eating this pork, [the Muslims] are not eating it,” King said. “So as long as they’re preparing this pork for infidels, it helps send them to hell and it must make Allah happy.”

“I don’t want people doing my pork that won’t eat it, let alone hope I go to hell for eating pork chops,” he concluded.

Ellison’s office declined to comment on King’s interpretation of his remarks.

King said he approached Ellison about the issue because meat-packing plants in his district had informed him that they hoped to hire Somalis to work in their facilities. “And I say, ‘well, Somali Muslims, will they cut pork?'” King recalled of his conversation with the plant leaders. “They looked at each other and said, ‘We don’t’ know.'”

King has drawn attention for his frequent flirtation with fringe, racist political elements. Earlier this week, he retweeted a known British white supremacist’s warning about immigration.

King’s commentary on pork consumption and Islam doesn’t stop at his district’s edge. Last week he slammed Sweden, which he said “capitulated to Halal” when the organizers of an international soccer tournament there decided against serving pork to accommodate a large number of Muslim players.

“I draw the line here and, if need be, will fight for freedom of choice — in our diets,” he tweeted. “Iowa’s 4th Congressional District is the #1 Pork district in America. No takin’ bacon off our tables.”

The Very Small People Running America

The people running America are very small, starting with the president, and continuing down through his administration and his Republican supporters.

What does small mean?

Let us put it in terms these people will understand, since practically all of them claim to be faithful, most of them faithful Christians:

So God created mankind in his own image.
Genesis 1:27

That is, of course, aspirational. Not that people will be able to reach godlike heights of compassion and care. But that is the constant goal—interrupted by the shortfalls we are all subject to, being human as we are.

But maybe we’ve got it all wrong. Maybe God is petty and ignorant, uncaring and uncompassionate. In which case, those running America are being faithful, acting so small in the image of a very small God.

Or maybe they don’t understand the very first chapter of the Bible they embrace, or maybe they ignore it or skip it. Maybe they don’t understand, ignore or skip the entire Bible.

Anyway, these are very small people, faithful or just pretending to be. Way too small to be doing such a big job.

Merton’s Last Year: Wisdom is No Vaccine

I’ve been reading the journals of Thomas Merton, and here is a thought. There is never a level of wisdom and awareness that removes doubt, no matter who you are. Never a level of wisdom and awareness that answers all the questions. Only better doubts and questions, unresolved and unanswered.

If you pay attention, you’ve noticed that people you admire, people you study and may try to emulate, are “only human.” They suffer from physical, psychological or soul problems, just like anybody else. This applies to people who may have served, or are still serving, as spiritual guides.

I’ve been with Thomas Merton a long time, reading him, reading about him, visiting his abbey and his Center. I am well aware of some of the questions and doubts that dogged him, especially about the choices of life he had made. Of course, Merton had pushed the envelope and managed a few tricks that benefited us and him. Entering a cloistered and mostly silent order, he produced thousands of words that reached around the world.

One of the things I have not read enough of are his journals, which he kept for decades, and which occupy seven published volumes. I had read his Asian Journal, which he kept on what was to be his final trip, when he was accidentally killed on December 8, 1968 in Bangkok. Aside from that, I had not read much of the journal of his last year, a time when Merton was more expressly reviewing his life and choices.

Knowing what we know about events, some think that Merton “sensed” he was heading towards an unexpected end. But Merton always knew there was an end, and Merton never stopped investigating, whether he had a few more days or, as we would like, many more years.

I am working my way through the last volume of his journal, covering October 1967 through December 1968 (The Other Side of the Mountain: The End of the Journey, The Journals of Thomas Merton Book 7). Along with his valuable observations about America and the world in that tumultuous time, we get close to a great man wondering whether the things he had done, for himself and others (like us), was the best use of a life. An unmarried Catholic monk in rural Kentucky, but also a very worldly man, he wonders about other religious traditions, about getting married, about living in California.

Wisdom does not provide immunity, wisdom is no vaccine. If anything, that is wisdom itself.

Trump v. Moses: Grievances Win Over Vision

People can be complainers. Grievances can be powerful. Just ask Trump. Or Moses.

Prior freedom and miracles were not enough for the Jews at Mount Sinai. While Moses goes up the mountain, for what turns out to be a monumental visionary moment, the people head in an entirely different direction. They are still chronically unhappy and complaining about their lives and the way things have been going, and so engage in all sorts of crazy behavior. In that story, the vision does end up prevailing, but only after lots more tzuris (troubles) and mishegas (craziness).

The only chance for vision to prevail over grievance is for there to be an actual coherent and enlightened vision, and for there to be widespread confidence among people in that actual vision. Otherwise people, who are just human, will complain—sometimes selfishly and shortsightedly, sometimes justifiably. And they will channel those complaints into strange behaviors and choices.

In America, there are a lot of people with grievances. And there is a vision vacuum, at least among those whose supposed structural mission is to be practical visionaries (for example, Democrats and religious institutions). Even with miracles behind him, Moses had a tough time. Without miracles or vision, in elections and at other times, we may be seeing a lot more golden calves.

 

Thomas Merton on Technology

I am ambivalent about the benefits and effects of unstoppable technological progress. It is nearly a force of nature. Rain helps our plants to thrive, our food to grow, our rivers to flow, our thirst to be quenched. But it can also overwhelm and destroy, so that we seek shelter from it in a flood or hurricane. Still, I wouldn’t trade technology in, not all of it, not easily. I am just wary and watchful.

This is from Thomas Merton’s journals. He lived as a monk in a handmade hermitage on the grounds of the Abbey of our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky. It is a tiny building that up until 1965 did not have electricity:

“At last the electric line is coming to my hermitage!”

Yesterday in the morning, when I went out for a breath of air before my novice conference, I saw men working on the hillside beyond the sheep barn. At last the electric line is coming to my hermitage! All day they were working on the holes, digging and blasting the rock with small charges, young men in yellow helmets, good, eager, hardworking guys with machines. I was glad of them and of American technology, pitching in to bring me light, as they would for any farmer in the district. It was good to feel part of this, which is not to be despised, but is admirable. (Which does not mean that I hold any brief for the excess of useless developments in technology.)

Thomas Merton Journals, February 16, 1965, V.206–7

More posts about Merton:

Merton: Events and Pseudo-Events

Merton on the Desert

For Me to Be a Saint Means to Be Myself

 

American Gnostic

Demiurges: Yaldabaoth, Sakla, Samael, Nebro, Azazi’il, Lucifer, Satan.  “At best incompetent and at worst malevolent. Mean-spirited, ignorant, tragic, megalomaniacal, ugly, erroneous.”

From The Gnostic Bible (emphases added):

“Consequently, gnostics provided innovative and oftentimes disturbing interpretations of the creation stories they read. They concluded that a distinction, often a dualistic distinction, must be made between the transcendent, spiritual deity, who is surrounded by aeons and is all wisdom and light, and the creator of the world, who is at best incompetent and at worst malevolent. Yet through everything, they maintained, a spark of transcendent knowledge, wisdom, and light persists within people who are in the know. The transcendent deity is the source of that enlightened life and light. The meaning of the creation drama, when properly understood, is that human beings—gnostics in particular—derive their knowledge and light from the transcendent god, but through the mean-spirited actions of the demiurge, the creator of the world, they have been confined within this world. (The platonic aspects of this imagery are apparent.) Humans in this world are imprisoned, asleep, drunken, fallen, ignorant. They need to find themselves—to be freed, awakened, made sober, raised, and enlightened. In other words, they need to return to gnosis….

“As noted, the demiurge or creator of this world is commonly distinguished from the transcendent deity in gnostic texts. The demiurge is ignorant, tragic, megalomaniacal. In the Secret Book of John he is depicted as the ugly child of Sophia, snakelike in appearance, with the face of a lion and eyes flashing like bolts of lightning. He is named Yaldabaoth, Sakla, Samael, and he is the chief archon and an arrogant, jealous god. In the Gospel of Judas he is given another name, Nebro, said to mean “rebel.” In the Gospel of Truth error behaves like the demiurge, for it becomes strong and works in the world, but erroneously. Similar, too, are the actions of nature in the Paraphrase of Shem, Ptahil in Mandaean literature, the five evil archons in Manichaean literature, Azazi’il in the Mother of Books, and Lucifer or Satan among the Cathars.

 

St. Rafqa’s Knit Haiku

For my beautiful and beloved knitter

St. Rafqa’s Knit Haiku

Who needs the arrows
of Valentine when we knit
with Rafqa’s needles

Note: I went looking for the Catholic patron saint of knitters—there’s usually an official or unofficial saint for everything—only to discover that there is no consensus about knitting. Suggestions include Saints Fiachra/Fiacre, Rafqa/Rebecca, Dymphna, Lucy, Ursula, Sebastian or Blaise. The idea was to connect the arrows of St. Valentine to the needles of St. Whoever. The haiku idea comes from having found the Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible as a gift for a knitter. All in all, a pretty long explanation for a pretty obscure poem. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Abraham Joshua Heschel: “I am an optimist against my better judgment.”

If you have the time—and you should make the time—please watch this half-hour interview of Abraham Joshua Heschel from 1972, shortly before he died.

It doesn’t matter whether you believe in God, the Bible or religion. That such a person might grace the world and our lives is testament to the human possibility. Few of us will reach that height, but just knowing that there is such light among us should inspire us dimmer bulbs.

“I am an optimist against my better judgment,” he says. On our better days, so should we all try to be.