Monday, September 15, 2014


Where are we?   

                                                       THE WASTE LAND

   If there were water                                           

And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
A spring
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit thrush sings in the pine grass
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water

T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land, Part V, 1922


We are the hollow men                   
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
                                                          Headpiece filled with straw.  Alas!

Our dried voices, when
           We whisper together  
           Are quiet and meaningless

As wind in dry grass
          Or rats’ feet over broken glass
                       In our dry cellar

T.S. Elliot, The Hollow Men, 1925.

                            Drawings by Elizabeth Snowden, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Mysticism – Fundamentalism and the Search for a Moral Guideline

   How can society make the best political choices?  The search for a proper moral guide is a constant throughout history.  Let us borrow and work with some ideas from E. Gilson, Joseph Campbell and T.S. Eliot.

   When there is a breakdown in philosophy – e.g. realism in whatever form is considered inadequate- then we resort to mysticism and fundamentalism deprived of experience and rational analysis.  The mysticism and fundamentalism serve as a support, if considered needed, for the moralism of survival of the fittest economics or the moralism of those opposed.  Gilson considers the collapse of Thomism in the 14th century and the enlightenment epoch as examples.  (Gilson, Etienne, The Unity of Philosophical Experience, Charles Scribners. New York, 1950.)  David Hume’s separation of ‘is’ from ‘ought’ still affects our moral considerations.  With Hume we have the danger of The Waste Land (T.S. Eliot poem) of morality without principle perpetuated by Hollow Men (another T.S. Eliot poem).  Joseph Campbell establishes the importance of myth. (The Power of Myth, 1988)  It’s not all about reason; the collapse of myth as well as reason clearly leaves us as ‘hollow men’ in Eliot’s ‘Waste Land.’  Benevolent dictator, Pope Francis, recognizes the desert or The Waste Land.  He proclaims:

In some places a spiritual ‘desertification’ has evidently come about, as the result of some societies to build without God or to eliminate their Christian roots.(Evangelii Gaudium,2013)

   An example of fundamentalism and mysticism:  The Milwaukee New Sanctuary Movement of Voces de la Frontera sponsors a prayer vigil once a month.  We pray for immigration reform and for the families affected.  Our evangelical allies insist that a personal encounter with Jesus fortifies us in our struggle.  But who is this Jesus we encounter but our own creation.  Of course the Jesus we personally create and encounter is for immigration reform, but what else does he advocate?  Pope Francis, with a hollow sound, recognizing the gains of evangelicos in Latin America, suggests the personal encounter with Jesus. 

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ. (ibid)

  Forget research on the historical Jesus – we can easily create him in our own minds.

   The Waste Land is always a problem, but I argue that we are experiencing the Waste Land as much, or more so than at any time in history.  Bill Droel says that the Roman Catholic Bishops should not present opinions on political candidates at the present time. (previous blog -9-7-2014) I agree.  The Roman Catholic hierarchy is stuck on their fundamentalist views of abortion, contraception, gay marriage, etc.  Good politics depend on compromise and do not spring from rigid fundamentalism or mysticism. 

   Economists Krugman and Reich extricate themselves from the enlightenment economics inspired by David Hume by insisting on a moral dimension of economics that makes sense.  We can debate what makes sense, but an agreement on the ‘common good’ seems possible to me … except if we insist on absolute certainty and therefore are locked into a rigid fundamentalist or mystical belief.  The impending Vatican synod on the family will not establish reason as the rule and make a nuanced explanation of the Natural Law – realistic philosophy has been abandoned even by those claiming to be from the tradition of Thomism.

   What 'makes sense' was considered key to natural law theory by John XXIII.  In his encyclical Pacem in Terris  he quoted Thomas Aquinas, “Human reason is the norm of the human will…” (Part I, #18)  A problem for natural law theory is that derivatives of ‘natural law’ are considered absolute ‘law’ by those who attribute to ‘natural law’ mandates that were considered reasonable at a previous time in history, but are no longer viable.  Such a claim reduces these projected derivatives of the 'Natural Law' which could be bad law, but in fundamentalist belief should be followed.  We then have erroneous natural law placed above civil law.  The Roman Catholic pedophile crisis was partially the result of popes, bishops and priests believing that they were above civil law with a reference to higher natural law circumscribed by even higher Divine Law.  They also sometimes use the mystical approach and refer to Divine law not backed by reason.  Divine Law establishes the need for priests and the sacraments for salvation.  Reason itself cannot be blamed for improper use or mistakes of the past and changes in society.  Perhaps the struggle with contradictions in the rigid church philosophical and theological position, with open debate, can result in positive moral development for the Roman Catholic Church with a return to realism. 

   A way back to realism for the Roman Catholic Church would be a return to Catholic Social Teaching on labor.  The Encyclicals are based on the 'moderate realism' of Thomas Aquinas.  Over the years the Encyclicals adjusted to the times.  A 1950’s Thomism would not work.  It would only fortify philosophical fundamentalism.  What is needed is a philosophy of moderate realism with no absolutes, supported by a theology in awe of being which respects and reveres all creation including human reason and myth as myth.  Rabbi M. Maimonides (1135 – 1204) refused to define God even though it meant that some considered him to be an atheist.   Instead of seeking Roman Catholic identity in fundamentalist beliefs such as anti- gay marriage, anti- contraception and anti- abortion, Church officials could look to the adjusted and adjustable moderate realism of the Encyclicals on labor.  John Paul II wrote that the Encyclicals on labor were part of the 'new evangelization.'  Of course supporting labor would go against the wealthy supporters of the Church.

   We cannot extricate ourselves from the enlightenment and its slavish reliance on statistics without recognizing a place for myth in moral decisions.   While the correct policy or decision may be influenced by myth – stories – conscience, but reason must have the final say. The question is:  does the policy make sense in reference to the common good?

   The official pronouncements of the Roman Catholic Church have avoided Biblical fundamentalism since the Galileo debacle, but philosophical fundamentalism on the 'natural law' now emerges as a serious problem.   Will the Church Hierarchy resort to a renewed desperate grab at biblical fundamentalism?  But there is hope.  The Hebrew people came out of the desert with the law of love and common sense guides for life.


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