Sunday, November 29, 2015

Secularism has no ultimate

Margaret Wente in yesterday's Globe seems to me to put a good spin on a tired explanation. What do you think? (Or is thinking sufficient?)

Here's her conclusion. Hope you can access the article - no idea what the Globe's access rules are.
Why are so many home-grown young Muslims (as well as a few converts) attracted to such a virulent form of faith? The common liberal answer is because they feel excluded. That answer strikes me as pathetically inadequate. A better answer would include a quest for meaning and purpose in a secular, postmodern world, and the attraction of an absolutist faith that offers certainty, structure and a chance for martyrdom and glory.
I think she's pointing somewhere potentially useful. Meaning, identity, purpose, faith... Hold off on the martyrdom for a minute, but glory? Yes - glory is good but not adequate if only for one's self. Then it is called something else, like self-importance.

Secularism's ultimate is social engineering versus profit, and self-protection versus the homeless other. These will not do as solutions. What will we do for policy and where will we get the power to do it? If we agree with the peaceable kingdom, everyone beneath a vine and fig tree and living at peace and unafraid, and they will not hurt nor destroy on all my holy hill, etc, then we do need to pay attention to social engineering and good bureaucratic policy, but we need to be willing to pay and payment does not come from money here, it comes from a human spirit moved by something other than the secular.

The secular idea has reestablished the sacred but refused to embrace it. So 'church' should stay out of 'politics'. Or the traditional sacred can no longer be practiced because the beauty it once knew has been exploited to the point of obliteration. The secular either exploits the unique, or it attempts to push the sacred back into its own space as if the invisible God who was present in the temple and tabernacle, a marriage canopy, can be pushed back in when the veil is torn. There's no image to push back into the empty place. The holiness has escaped and infected everything. The secular is empty.

Do I think there is an alternative that is not simply a competing image of God? Yes - but it is not easy to express. The care for the other, the poor and marginalized, is a start. But the question is - where does the power come from to continue? What stands against our very natural need for self-protection and self-importance? We are important. According to the Abrahamic traditions, every one of us and all of us together are created in the image and likeness of God, the ultimate Other. This might be a start to understanding and experiencing a power greater than our own needs. According to my reading of the Old Testament, doing the right thing (thanks for the great movie title, Spike Lee) calls us beyond narrow interests.

If I am searching for anything, it is how to give oneself at the right time and in the right place, in part, for the benefit of the 'other' who is in my midst. There is a time to give and a time to refrain from giving. How do we 'know'? I know no other way than to invite trust in the Invisible ultimate. As one raised in Christianity, in spite of its appalling tendency to crucify everyone and everything in sight, including its own policies, the psychological reality of the self-giving of the Anointed Jesus for the life of the world, is a very powerful image and in my experience, it is a stronger power than our own self-centredness.

Does this result in radicalization also? It sure can. But it can also result in love of the other, and the Other. The love is costly. The love is radical. The message has been the same in all time. The Old Testament has, yes Virginia, the same message as the New. There is a fully human example of how to govern and of how not to govern, there are a myriad of stories in these books. We just need to figure out which is which, which is the good example to follow and which examples are not to be followed. And - it's not that difficult. If you are any kind of systems thinker, you will have realized that all systems are incomplete and provably so. So let your mind ponder the Ultimate that cannot be defined but that allows love to emerge.

Then you and I might know martyrdom in its original sense: a witness to something useful and lovely. And our deaths might be minuscule, things we can survive and learn from, steps on the way to glory, ascending to the temple that is without images but in which we will see something more than visions of sugarplums. (Gotta get a Christmas theme in here somehow).

In the same Globe, Donald Savoie asks some possibly useful questions on bureaucracy:
If nothing belongs to a single department any more, should we still rely on traditional line departments to come up with policy proposals and deliver public services? Should government have self-governing delivery arms tied to policy centres led by ministers? If government departments and agencies cannot retain revenues or their budget, how can we expect them to remain frugal? How can we streamline accountability requirements? How can we isolate, at least some government operations, so that missteps become lessons learned for managers rather than “gotcha” fodder for the blame game? How can we improve relations between ministers and the public service, government and Parliament?
The secular alone will fail, just as business alone fails (yes it fails because in its wake is the destruction of the other, whether these be the earth, the disadvantaged, or the exploited). The secular infected by the sacred, the Unknown and in some sense provably Unknowable, has possibilities that in every generation remain untried in full.

Our new PM said he trusted us. How will we respond - as the aged, as the young, as business leaders, as bureaucrats, - all of us together thinking together out of the boxes of our biases toward mere self-protection. Then we will begin to understand economy - the reality of the household that Canada can be.

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