Thursday, July 31, 2008

Neopotism, Law and Ethics

While in Spain and learning about the Hasburgs, the Medicis, et al, it became clearer to me how the world used to view marriage and political alliances.

Marriage was a political alliance, not a commitment of love and trust. This was an accepted form of governing the peasantry. While this brought political fruitfulness in trade and diplomacy, what did it do for the peasants?

While touring the Royal Palace in Madrid, it was pointed out that the King and Queen of Spain would wash a number of peasants feet, to remind them of their duty under God. I thought this was important as it signified that the Royals understood that their duty was under God and brought accountability.

With the American Revolution, laws were formed to protect rights and the duties under God were balanced by accountability to other branches of government. It was not assumed that leaders would be fair and just in their dealings unless there was this balance of power.

One of the laws that maintain equal justice under law is the law against neopotism. It inhibits relatives or friends from partiality in political or job alliances. It is based on an equality under the law, where all are respected with equal opportunities.

Although everyone knows that neopotism happens, ideally, it shouldn't. I value this law because it gives opportunity to those who may not have that opportunity otherwise. It affirms all as equal before the law. And it protects from corruption. Corruption is bred on the heels of "good ole boy" systems.

Unfortunately, our government's first leaders were viewed as public servants under God. Nowadays, government's leaders are viewed as image builders and maintainers. Real Character does not matter, it is what people think about their leaders, not what is actually true.....

Without a responsibility and commitment to those who they serve, leaders cannot help but be unethical in their governance. Laws were to protect the freedoms of everyone, not just those in leadership.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Religious Freedom and Values

This past week-end at a friend's house, my husband and I watched an Arabic TV show on Islam. After watching this program, we turned to Fox news and watched "Honor Killings", where two American teenagers were murdered by their father within America's borders. In light of certain "tolerance" messages that I've recently recieved via e-mail, I am becoming more and more disturbed.

Religious freedom was a value America was founded on. Today, we find ourselves stressed to find a solution when it comes to religious freedoms. Immigration used to mean that the new Americans assimilated and became part of the "melting pot". Today, America has many segregated niches within her borders.

What does this mean when it comes to religious freedom? On one hand our nation's laws have been tolerant toward religious expression, it has been the wall between Church and State. Tolerance has been valued on the basis of reason, because experience has taught us that without it, we stand to loose much more than just religious freedom.

But, today's climate breeds a contradiction in terms to our religious tolerance. Islamic fundamentalists are not tolerant to religious freedoms or to laws that protect religious freedom. So, if our courts "take up the cause" of determining what defines religious intolerance, then are we not at the doors of a State determining or evaluating a religion's "right" to exist? Will we be tempted to create sanctioned "state religions"?

In light of the "honor" killings, we cannot look the other way when it comes to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", can we? Make no mistake about it, fundamentalist religions do not tolerate diversity. Religion, in this sense, is conformity to certain standards that are measurable. And these standards justify many "heart sins" as well as overt killings in the name of "god". The values we hold for the individual are despised by these types of religious interpretations. Written texts are literal and are implemented in the name of "god". It is based on a shame and honor culture that uses fear, intimidation, humiliation and any other "justified" means to implement a standardized culture upon humans. It is not humane because the concern is for "god" and not Man.

The question for America is: should we trust the Islamic "moderates", who promise to educate the "peasants" about moderation? Will education in the usual sense make a difference for those who have been "brain-washed" (in a cultic sense)? And how does America in the meantime "do" foreign policy when it comes to rogue nations? Do we still believe that all desire to be "free" as individuals? And do the Churches within America's borders believe that the individual is a valued "image-bearer", who have certain inalienable rights or do American churches have a "group identity"? Isn't part of our American Christian experiment our diversity in viewpoints? And isn't diversity where our denominations define our religion? Isn't faith really about being human, instead of the dogma and doctrines of the Church of the past?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Beauty, Art and Value

In the past two weeks, I have had a number of opportunities to revel in the beauty of art! In Spain, my husband and I viewed three musuems with works from Picasso, Goya, and Dali, who are native sons of Spain, but we also saw works by van Gogh, Rembrandt, da Vinci, etc. This past Friday, a friend took me to Marjorie Merriweather Post's mansion, where we viewed interior design, jewelry, landscaping, etc. Tonight, my husband and I will go with another couple to hear some classical music and dine at a French restuarant.

What do all these things have in common? Human innovation in creative "arts" that are only representative of another realm. Beauty is not functional EXCEPT to point beyond itself to bring a sense of awe or reverence, or to make a statement of meaning that could not be expressed in the functional. The humanities are indeed important to "man" and should be respected by the Christian, for it is in experiencing life's beauty that the worship of "God" can function. Theology itself is an "art". Without beauty, life is less colorful, and lively and therefore, less enjoyable and meaningful.

Some believe that these enjoyments should be denied, as they are an extravagant and wasteful use of means. This is asceticism. I would argue that it is not the ends, but the reasons that are the important aspect of virtue. Do we with gratitude experience our lives, understanding that all is gift?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sex, Relationships, and Value

On a recent blog post, it was revealed that the Anglican Church is struggling with issues of identity. There seems to be a difference of opinion where it concerns certain behaviors in the Church.

One main controversy in the Church is homosexuality. Should the homosexual be allowed to attend and fellowship within the walls of churches. The spectrum of opinion runs from full acceptance within leadership to withdrawing and shunning.

I believe that we must discuss this issue with an open mind, for many social issues have challenged the Church in the past and have brought segments of change. What is the standard for marriage?

Some argue that the Church's authority resides within the covers of the text, the "Bible". These are the fundamentalists, who believe in the infalliability of "God's Word". They interpret the test literally and fear for the sake of society God's judgment, if homosexuality is condoned in any form.

Then, there are those who have "no standards" of judgment. These people believe that homosexuals are just like anyone else in this world, seeking acceptance, love and purpose. What should be the Church's stance?

I don't believe that the Church will ever fully agree on anything in this life, as disagreement has happened over the course of time in every aspect of man's existence. But, the Church is called to view marriage within certain ways. What is marriage about? Is marriage about two people, whose character's illustrate the values ofs commitment, loyalty, and love? Is marriage only about the form and purpose of sex? The Catholic Church has taken a traditional stand against homosexual relationships, because of the traditional understanding of procreation. Is procreation the only reason for sex within a Christian marriage? In fact, the Catholic Church takes a stand against "unnatural forms" of contraception .If procreation is the only reason for sex within marriage, then should sex continue after the years of child-bearing? If marriage is ultimately for child-bearing, then why do traditional marriage vows not include that aspect of marriage?

Marriage is about a relationship between two people and their vow of "forsaking all others". It is represented by identification, as Christ to the Church. Why then, is a monogmous homosexual union "unrighteous"? Is it because of a literal reading of the text of Scripture?

Some argue that homosexuals should abstain from the temptation, even if it becomes proven that homosexuality is "genetically determined". Those who argue this way corrolate homosexuality with alcoholism. The alcoholic is predisposed to the disease of alcoholism and must practice self-control in abstinence. Isn't alcoholism abuse of alcohol? Unless one adheres to alcohol as inherently evil, then it is not the alcohol that is evil but its abuse. The same argument holds for sex. If marriage is not just for child-bearing but also for the expression of sexual love and sex is not inherently evil, then sexual expression is not wrong except outside of rightful place (within marriage). As Paul argues that nothing is unlawful, but some things are unbeneficial.

Perversion can be about anything, even things that are usually blessings. This is why moderation is the character that is virtuous.

Culture, Tradition and Difference

In our multicultural world, it is unacceptable to be prejuidiced. So, we struggle to identify where our prejuidices are and when they raise their "ugly heads", we submerge them in a "sea of denial". Why don't we sift our prejuidices for "gems of reality" and underpinning of value(s)?

Whenever one has suffered at the hands of intolerance, there are two wrong possible responses. While both are submerged in a mass of pain and humiliation, one circumvents a full development of reason in the name of tolerance, while the other response becomes just as hostile and intolerant as ther perpetuators. Fear is the root of both. While the merciful want nothing to do with intolerance, the just want nothing to do with tolerance. There is no moderation and rationale of emotion.

Culture is the environment of a location or a group. The culture of prejuidice defines that culture by it boundaries created by the laws and rules that shape that culture. Prejuidice is not necessarily wrong in these instances, for it is only in definition that the group or culture can identify itself from another. Humanity, undefined, cannot be embraced for it is only in the specified that another understands and can embrace with knowledge. Knowledge is a necessary component of love.

While love does embrace, it at the same time does not have to condone all aspects of another's life. We can love and be prejuidiced. We can embrace and reject. The values that the individual holds represents the goals of his/her life. Bring these goals to the fore and allow the values to take care of themselves.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Human Expression, Creativity, and Human Rights

Human expression is a necessary part of being "human". Without the creativity of human expression ,"man" ceases to be unique. And the unique expression of the individual are granted by certain rights as "being human" and are given by nature's god.

Creativity is the person's "giftedness" and "individuality" being expressed and it is garunteed in our Bill of Rights, as freedoms that uphold a government that values the individual as uniquely created. The exceptionally creative are usually not accepted by the "rules", "laws" that govern a particular group. These groups are governed by the "elite" of that particular class (artists who have "won" respect, writers who have sold more books, scientists who have published more papers...).The "creative" do not fit inside a box of conformity and "niceness". In training animals, behavior modification and conditioning "form" the animal into a "shape". But, the difference in being "human" is the free expression of individuality, which expresses "god" in many forms (and not a shaping of conformity as religion does). Laws cannot legislate the human, only protect the freedoms that identify the "human".

Freedom of speech and freedom of press is a "right" garunteed by our government. These freedoms presuppose the individual's right to form his own opinion in a free and open society. Last night, while watching a news program, it was reported that John McCain was unable to publish an op ad piece in the N.Y. Times. The N. Y. Times sent it back to him asking him to revise his piece by stating the exact vision he has about the Iraqi war. Several things bother me about this....

John McCain is running for presidency and it is mandantory for the press to give him equal and fair coverage without stipulating what he may or may not publish. It is only when the people have free acess to a candidate's views and opinions that an informed decision can be made as to their vote. Only in a closed or totalitarian government is freedom of speech and the press circumvented. It is sometimes called propaganda (in religious terms it is called "indoctrination").

Secondly, the demand of the N.Y Times for McCain to give a time table for withdrawing troops is limiting and short sighted. John McCain cannot give the details as to a time scale for withdrawing from Iraqi. Anyone with experience in the complexities of foreign policy and politics would realize that hard and fast solutions are improbable, if not impossible. A lot of the" ideal vision" has to be revised when "new" information comes to the fore in regards to a changing situation, much less when negotiating with foreign governments and their "ideals". It is hard for me to believe with all the coverage of Obama's trips overseas (live coverage, if you will) that this is unfair. A while ago Russ Limbaugh was going to have to give "equal time" to the liberal opinion and it was all in the name of "fairness". No matter what your view of Limbaugh is, it is not freedom to demand "equal coverage" when he pays the bills for his programming.

Many conservative Christians assert that we have no "rights" and that we should trust God, as Sovereign in the "rule of the world". This cannot be unless one believes in a direct and absolute "cause" to the events that transpire. It is necessary in government, therefore, to seek to sift through many aspects concerning a situation and not understand events as direct causes of God. Men are the rulers of governments, not God. And it is not a uniformity as to religious "ideals", as to the shape of a free and humane society. It is all men who are responsible for that government, who are called to be informed and involved and not allow fate to express itself and call it "god".

There is no form in this world that is perfect, but there is a closer manifestation of humane governance. I believe that the American form is the best, for it affirms all humans as God's creations and grants them equal rights. Even the "creative", who have brought about social reformation in our laws have been granted freedom of expression. and there is no "creative" businessman who would diminish the freedom of our government in allowing him to pursue his own ends. This is the great experiment of American government and its affirmation of human expression, creativity and human rights.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Law, Power, and Ethics

This past week in a conference on "the Human Being", the introductory talk pointed out the crisis in our postmodern world of finding a universal understanding of how law, power and ethics interface. The question is not merely an academic one, but one profoundly, practical in our dangerous and fragmented world.

I understand some are forging the discussion around "tradition", as tradition is the arena of culture. Is the Eastern and Western split ever to be resolved? And can it be resolved by reference to tradition, where it is just a matter of a "way of life", language, text and understanding? If so, then, it presupposes that tradition's "social structures" are the necessary task to address.

While most would agree that this aspect of universiality is important, is it the "most important" or is it "a priori "to the reason of the individual, like we would find in a democracy? Equal justice under the law is what our democracy is about. Isn't our democracy what human rights is about? And wouldn't human rights affirm the individual and the individual's desire for freedom and justice within their own personal value system, as long as the value system was "lawful"? Is affirming personal values too expensive for the "sake of the common good" and traditional values? I don't believe this has been the case in many of the issues facing "mankind". Americans have seen and experienced the "crisis" of slavery, and women's rights. All of these "changes" have been "progressive" in "traditional terms". So, is there no "progress", but only a circularity of the rise and fall of empires and cultures based on undermining tradition's values and tradition's "god"?

Tradition's values are important to understand, as far as a culture's values, but, is affirming "freedom and justice" for the individual or group too costly for a culture? Does it innately undermine culture's very foundations? If so, on what foundation can we argue that culture is based? Is culture based on "god" or reason? If on "god", whose god? The transcendence of God presupposes agnosticism, which is an untenuable way of struturing or forming government. If culture is based on reason, then it is inevitably going to be conflictual in nature, for different cultures have different values. And these values are represented by the laws that define that culture. Is it "God" or "man" that should be the ultimate and define the laws of a particular culture?

The question will be answered differently depending on how one approaches the problem and what presuppositions one has and how one resolves the dilemmas. If one approaches the problem with "Law", there will never be "unity", for one will have to define what basis the law is known or understood and then how the law will be implemented, which is the domain of nation states, values, and ethics. And Law and Power can never be the resolution of the problem in ethics for it demeans the very process, in circumventing justice (this is why our "balance of power" was a brillant idea).

While ethics cannot be resolved through absolutized power or law, neither will we find a universalized ethic when it comes to values, because there will always be "conflict and disagreement" about the goals and purposes of value. Is human life more valuable than "god"? Is it justified to "take a life" in the name of "god" and if so, on what basis? Is human dignity a universal value?

These questions are not about academic question of law, power and ethics, but is the very substance of "world politics", nation states, cultural identity, and human rights of the individual. and groups....And our very democracy! How we understand and address them will determine the future of our globalized world.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What Spain May Mean

Thursday, my husband and I leave for Madrid. It is not just a pleasure trip, although it will surely be enjoyed! We are going to a science and religion conference. The subject is on Personhood. While many may not understand how personhood and the Church intersect, I believe it is the main challenge for the Church today in understanding faith.

It seems that the Church's beginning in Judiasm has been understood in such completely different ways, that it boggles one's mind to assess what really happened and why. But, a commitment to the Church calls for an understanding of some kind, which is my present pursuit.

In understanding Jesus' ministry, one has to asess who Jesus was, and how it was understood in that day, who Jesus ministered to and why, how Jesus related to Judiasm and what the implications are to the communities of faith, as well as understand the political context. Understanding Jesus in his context is only the beginning to understanding Christian faith. Then, one has to tackle Church history.

Church history begins with the Councils, which solidified the developing tradition. These councils must be put into the context of the Church's "power" at that time. Why were the decisions made that were made? What were the challenges to the Church at that time that were being addressed? And how did these decisions impact the Church's understanding of faith. But, the Church's history is not complete without understanding the Reformation and its impact on the Church.

One of the primary results of the Reformation was Scritpture being put into the "language of the people". Education was impacted by the development of the printing press and giving the individual access to the Scriptures. But, the result of individual interpretation was schism. How was the Church to understand itself when there were so many interpreters, each understanding the text differently? These experiential challenges in maintaining the "authority" of the Church were met with science's impact on reason.

Science and its impact on the Church cannot be undermined, as the Church had had pre-eminence in understanding the "world" and "life". But, now, science had challenged the Church's authority and its understanding of "man". Human sciences were now in the forefront of understaning man and his "world".

In understanding today's need of "authority", one must understand how man develops in reason. Man's reason is limited, but can lead to an understanding of faith. Man becomes the "study" of the Church in understanding how "God" has made man (universals) and how each individual is unique (particulars). The "study" of man crosses the disciplines of anthropology, biology, psychology, sociology, and theology. This is what we will encounter in Madrid and what it may mean....

Sunday, July 6, 2008


I found a web-site on Communitarianism that was fascinating.
While our nation's freedoms have granted the individual rights to pursue their own ends, the values of patriotism, community, service, honor and duty have fallen by the wayside. Communitarians seek to promote an interdependence of the individual and community. Nations only flourish when the individuals within that nation seek to serve their country. And since most individuals will not have the opportunity to serve at a national level, community service is encouraged.

Our nation's diversity is also valued by the Communitarian. Differences are not seen as threats, but as challenges. The differences of race, or ideas are not subverted or short-changed, but are met with an openness within law. The free exchange of ideas and immigration policy itself is met by the Communitarian as an affirmation of values for diverse ways of "seeing".

Even though I am "new" in my exposure to the Communitarian approach, I hope to inform myself more thoroughly of this social/political philosophy, as it lends itself to a "center" that I find more palatable than either conservative or liberal. I think it just may be something to commit to.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Fourth of July, Freedom and Values

Today is America's Independence Day! What does American Independence mean to the average American? I'm not sure that many even give their freedom a second thought. Americans, for the most part, in my opinion, take their way of life for granted. But, when an antrocity happens, we band around the ideals of our country and remember why we are what we are.....FREE!

Our Founding Fathers understood that nature's God had granted the individual certain inalienable rights. These rights give us the freedoms that we value as Americans and are found in our Bill of Rights. Freedom to speak and publish our opinions gives the individual and groups the right to express openly and freely without fear of recourse from the government. Freedom of religion grants individuals the right to worship God according to their own consciences. Freedom of assembly means that we Americans can gather together to form societies that are free from government oversight. All of these freedoms assume individual responsibility.

Some freedoms are believed to go beyond the right of the individual and subvert a more stable union, such as the right to bear arms. But, in our free society, even the right to disagree on what right is "right" is encouraged. If our government assumes individual responsiblity then, what responsibilities should Americans have toward their government or society, in general? Are Americans becoming more irresponsible because of the freedoms we enjoy? Or are our freedoms breeding selfish individualism? Some believe so.

I would argue that our freedoms are not the main reason for our problems, but the break-down of the family. The family is the first community that the child is a member. The child is educated about many aspects of life within the family. If the family is consumed by material gains and stressed due to those goals, is it any wonder that the child enters adolescence without a rudder to steer his life? Every value that supports human flourishing and the government's order is taught upon the knees of the parents, from self- responsibly, citizenship, proper behavior, and attitudes toward life in general. The free society should reinforce those values in school and within local communities. And the Church should underwrite and support the family in those values.

Freedom, then is not the problem, but has been used to pursue unworthy goals at the expense of more important values.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Values of American Higher Education

Today while visiting with some friends here in D.C., we were discussing the ideals of our country; equality under the Law, liberty, opportunity, individualism, etc...And in the process we were reminded of what made our country great and what values were most important. Education is the means of defining and refining those values.

Unfortunately, because of the environment of innovation created upon the heels of the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and the World Wars, American education became pragmatically oriented. Aesthetic values have not, as a whole, been a value of higher education, nor has education been pursued for its own ends. Education has been pursued predominately for a pragmatic purpose, a job. Science has flourished in such an environment, but at what cost?

Science, while giving Americans a more "convenient life", is utilitarian in "outcome". While we benefit from science's innovations, we must not loose sight of the true purpose of education.

Higher education should develop and enlarge the "world" of the individual. Education, in this sense, creates a better citizen, in understanding most impthe most important values to that individual, and tolerance toward others with different values. Tolerance of difference is the atmosphere of academic freedom and the liberties that we value most as Americans. The values our country has affirmed must be protected and valued for the sake of "the greater good" and for "the greater world".