Monthly Archives: May 2009

Sotomayor? Yes!

Posted by Mike

June 1, 2009. I thought it would never come. Responsible Republicans are finally speaking out against their most notorious spokesperson’s excessive rantings. I understand that in the heat of the moment any politician or individual speaking out against a political position that they strongly but honestly differ with might not speak calmly and rationally, but Limbaugh and his ilk speak constantly in hyperbole. Among the many over the top comments Mr. Limbaugh made on his Friday May 29 radio show was that Judge Sotomayor in her prepared remarks during a talk in 2001 made “… racist and bigoted comments about her being a better judge than a white guy.” Newt Gingrinch made similar comments in his Twitter note of May 27, and the issue has been picked up and commented on endlessly by conservatives in the media.

The specific quote by Judge Sotomayor in a talk to a group of Hispanic women in 2001 was, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

[The full text of Judge Sotomayor’s speech which was delivered at the University of California, Berkeley, College of Law, can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/15/us/politics/15judge.text.html?_r=2]

The Judge’s talk was essentially about her ethnic identity and the part that plays in her judicial work and in celebrating the increasing ethnic and racial diversity and the greater participation of women in the judicial system in the United States .

 Judge Sotomayer also stated in that talk, “I accept the thesis of …Professor Steven Carter of Yale Law School …that in any group of human beings there is a diversity of opinion because there is both a diversity of experience and thought.”  She goes on to say that “…enough people of color in enough cases, will make a difference in the process of judging….As recognized by legal scholars…as a group we will have an effect on the development of the law and on judging.” She stated that “the seminal decisions in racial and sex discrimination cases have come from Supreme Courts composed exclusively of white males,” but goes on to reflect that it was people of color and women who successfully argued those cases before the Court.  Within the context of the Judge’s talk, the specific quote above that has been the cause of so much recent controversy was specifically in relation to making judgments on the bench in sex and racial discrimination cases. 

It is clear from her talk, however, that Judge Sotomayor believes that in general ethnic, racial, and sexual diversity in judicial setting will provide more representative and more fair decisions. She states, “Personal experience affects the facts that judges choose to see.” She accepts the proposition that there will be a difference “by the presence of women and people of color on the bench.”

Clearly Judge Sotomayor’s statements are not racial or bigoted. She appears to be a realist and is clearly not a Constitutional fundamentalist. Obviously there are many Americans who are fearful of the increasing diversity of the Supreme Court, just as they are fearful of the increasing diversity of values and of the increasing ethnic and racial diversities of the country. If we look at the history of our country, despite our multicultural heritage, we have always experienced resistance to providing equal freedoms, rights and privileges to women and minorities – sometimes extremely prolonged [witness the blocking of Reconstruction in the late 1860’s and the resistance to full freedom and equality for African-Americans until the 1960’s]. Our Founding Fathers clearly had their blind spots, but in the Declaration of Independence they wrote that “all men are created equal,” and they put into the Constitution the goal of “the blessings of liberty” for all persons. Over the past 200 plus years, we have slowly, progressively, in fits and starts moved toward that goal of freedom and equality for all. The appointment of Judge Sotomayor  to the Supreme Court will move us just a few more notches  in that direction despite anything that Rush Limbaugh and his cronies will have to say!

“The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.”                                     –  Thomas Jefferson                            

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Two Years of Language

Posted by David

Our son is turning three years old next week and over the past few days we’ve been compiling some of his best words. I know, as his parents, the words are far more fun to us than are to you, but here they are anyway.

It’s interesting to note that a number of the words contain added meaning, such as swimming cool and sunsit.

beepeeter computer
busy dizzy
earblobs earlobes
firegengen fire engine
hakes thanks
jawbers strawberries
mohsocker motorcycle
moperseeker fish?
onie onion
psyged excited
shark sharp
shish fish
sunsit sunset
swimmin cool swimming pool
tabers potatoes
toothtaste toothpaste
tungle tunnel
zirt dessert

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It’s All About Me! The Universality of Projection

Posted by Mike

We generally think, when we see something out there and listen to people talking out there (in the real world), that what we are seeing and what we are hearing are really out there in the real world and not that what is actually occurring is within our heads.  Well, actually, the objective events are occurring out there in the real world.  It’s the interpretations of our perceptions that are occurring within our heads – and at times the interpretation does relate more to what is going on in our own thoughts and emotions than to what’s occurring in reality.  Most people are somewhat familiar with the psychological defense of projection, that occurs when we attribute to someone else a thought or feeling that we have because it is in some way unacceptable to us.  I expect that all of us use projection from time to time.  But I am not only referring to that, I’m thinking about something much bigger.  And that is that we interpret our perceptions on the basis of our own biases, preconceptions and our own personal history.  Our interpretation of someone’s meaning, or intention, or behavior is strongly colored by what’s happened to us in the past, and thus our interpretations are at times, for all of us, colored by what’s inside us. 

There are at least two general ways in which we distort our perceptions, and they vary in severity, depending on factors that are both internal to us and external.  The most important way we distort is a function of our personal mental pathology.  Those of us who are relatively well adjusted, with minimal unresolved internal emotional conflicts or free-floating emotional residuals are likely to have a lower degree of emotional distortion of our perceptions.  Individuals who are filled with strong free-floating emotions – like anger, fear, anxiety – are likely to be the most vulnerable to not perceiving reality as objectively.  In addition, the more the stimulus touches an area of special vulnerability to us as individuals, areas of special conflict or uncertainty and emotionality, the more we are likely to distort our perceptions.  The second major way that we distort our perceptions is a function both of the stimulus and our special reactivity, and this has to do with the ambiguity of the stimulus.  The more ambiguous the stimulus, the less certain we are as to what is happening out there objectively in reality, and the more we are likely to project our own interpretation on the event or events, based both (obviously) on our own personal history and upon the emotional overlay the stimulus of the objective events elicits within us.

The more we are concerned with attribution of others attitudes, motives and feelings (as opposed to more objective events), the more is the possibility that at least some of our attributions to others are really a product of our own notions, preconceptions, biases.  Everyone has a frame of reference through which we perceive events occurring outside of our bodies, in our own homes and communities, the nation, the world.  Do we often or even ever stop to think that conclusions that we make regarding events and motives are to some degree colored by our own unconscious biases?  I know people who without any doubt believe that every opinion they have about events, personalities, decisions of others is right without question, and certainly not in any way influenced by their own biases and lack of objectivity.

A strong example of false attribution is paranoia, the situation when a person truly believes that others are in some way out to get them, when the subtlest behaviors are seen as clues by the paranoid person, reflective of others’ nefarious intent.  People who are this paranoid generally end up in a hospital under heavy sedation, which if it doesn’t stop the paranoia, at least reduces the person’s energy and potential to cause damage.  I heard a therapist say once that for people who are more intact and capable of some objective reasoning, that the best way to begin to deal with paranoia is for the paranoiac to say to himself, “It’s in here.  It’s not out there!” and to act on those thoughts – to act as if the problems are his own, even if he doesn’t completely believe it at first.  This is likely a tall order for most of us, but can be  manageable, with some external supports.  Over time the individual doing the projecting can begin to sort out rationally and objectively – with some help – exactly what is really “out there” and what is really “in here”; and can begin to look at the motives that must be driving his projection in the first place.  One primary emotional motive is likely fear, fear of things internal that are not acknowledged and not even in awareness. It’s a big order to begin to be aware of our internal fears and where they come from.  Some people would like to think that they can ferret out such things by themselves.  Ironically, it appears that Freud seemed to think that he was able to do this independently (cf.  The Interpretation of Dreams).  He certainly didn’t believe that it was possible for others, and developed a severely authoritarian and rigid system for searching out and resolving the internal conflicts that lead to such things as projection.  Ironically, in recent years there have been many revisionists that have questioned whether Freud was truly able to effectively engage in self-analysis and that he was doing little more than setting up another level of defenses to conceal his own hidden emotional conflicts.

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Outside the Camp

Outside the Camp
Posted by David

I couldn’t think of anything to blog about and it’s been a while, so I worked on this graphic. It explains my current state best.

I don’t feel at home with the conservatives. I don’t fit in with the liberals. I certainly don’t fit in with civilization. I feel best fit with the misfits and children out there, but even in their company I don’t connect all that well. I do feel at home in the wilderness, but I know it’s not my true home either. I do feel a familiarity which is akin to home with my family, but there too, like in the wilderness, it’s a fleeting home, rarely so comfortable that I’m at peace.  I suppose one of the places that I feel most at home is closing my eyes and singing the gospels with other Christians, but that only happens regularly once a week. Again, like family and wilderness, it’s fleeting.

I will venture to guess that depression in all it’s forms is simply a manifestation of homesickness. If we’re not in some state of feeling homesick, we should ask why we’re not.

In my past I had a couple of bouts with what some might call depression, but that relentless deep empty feeling has not resurfaced in years, in particular since I realized that my home is outside the camp with Jesus.

Home is where the heart is and my heart is with Jesus.

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.

-Mark 1:35

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Re: Skepticism

Posted by David

This is a response to Skepticism.

When I used to teach kids about various natural history topics in Olympic National Park, I would use a special Skins and Skulls activity taught to me by a friend named Nick. It was all based on having the students recognize the difference between observations and conclusions. Each of the 15 or so students were passed out either a skin or a skull. The students had a great variety of objects to choose from. Actually, they didn’t choose. That would have taken way too much time. I passed them out. There were specimens such as a bobcat skull or a deer skin.

On the first round of the activity the students were to make only observations. No conclusions were to be made. We went around the table and each student made one observation. As was expected a students would say something like, “These teeth are made for eating meat” or “This thick fur keeps this animal warm.” Then I would say, “No conclusions please, only observations this time around.” Eventually, most of the students understood the difference.

Next we would go around the table and make conclusions based on their first-round observation. Then I could praise them and say, “Yes, you’re right, those sharp, pointy teeth are so that the animal can grip flesh, ” or “Yes, that thick fur is to keep the animal warm in the water.”

We all must be keen observers, whether we are naturalists or just human beings trying to figure out our life. But being a observer and not jumping to conclusions is only the first half of the program. We must also draw conclusions from what we observe. If we don’t, then we run the risk of thinking that there really are no conclusions to be made. Eventually, we must take the risk—have faith—to draw a conclusion, because there are conclusions to be made.

The fur is made to keep the beaver warm.

The sharp canines are to hold flesh tightly.

What about truth? Is truth observable? Is the nature of truth a conclusion we can make? If we are a true skeptic, we don’t allow ourselves to assign a judgement to the nature of truth. But even the skeptic can’t help from leaning this way and that way toward a particular ideal or a presuppositions. It’s in our nature. These leanings are unavoidable it seems to me.

We are continually bombarded with observations in the natural world that help us define truth. These observations beg questions as well as answers. Why are there so many stars? Why is water liquid on earth? What is the human mind? 

We are also given testimonials to truth from witnesses. These observations of others also begs questions and answers—unless we just consider all testimonial of all other humans to be either lies, fantasy or insanity.  If we believe the observations of others, then we must consider at least a part of their observations in the body of evidence. Then it’s time for us to draw conclusions. We make a judgment based on the what we know.

This is what the Gospels are about. They are evidence to truth. They are observations from the field. Either the witnesses were lying or they weren’t. Read them and see what you think. Does it sound like they were written by people who truly believed their own observations? The witnesses observed Jesus. They saw him on the cross. They saw the empty tomb. They saw him alive. There are witnesses to Jesus today. In these witnesses you can observe a changed life. In them you can witness God’s love. 

 Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Matthew 7:7

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Augustine

Posted by Mike

Most of us know Augustine from his autobiography, Confessions; however, Augustine, published in 2005, by James O’Donnell, gives us a much broader picture of the man later called Saint Augustine, throughout his life and in his work. In addition, the book describes the doctrinal and theological conflicts that plagued the early church, of which most of us are completely unaware, and that prefigured the later sectarian conflicts between the Eastern and Western churches, as well as the disagreements between Catholicism and the Protestant movement and those within the Protestant church in the post-Renaissance years. Doctor O’Donnell is a professor of classics and currently Provost at Georgetown University. He also has a new book out, published in 2008, The Ruin of the Roman Empire, that can be read in conjunction with Augustine, and that provides a comprehensive description of the events that led to the collapse of the Western Roman empire in the period from about 300 to 500 AD. 

Augustine was a prolific writer throughout his life and especially after his ordination in his late thirties and during the many years when he was a bishop at Hippo, in North Africa.  He wrote many books and he sent copies of them to friends, colleagues and benefactors all over the Roman Empire of the time. We must remember that Augustine lived long before the invention of the printing press. Yet volumes of his writings were hand-copied, were preserved, and are available to classical, historical researchers today. O’Donnell reconstructs Augustine’s life from his formal published writings, but in addition and perhaps more importantly, from letters and sermons that are available, that provide a perspective on Augustine that is less formal than the picture of the man that is provided primarily from his more formal writings. 

Augustine of Hippo lived from 354 to 430 AD, at the tail edge of the ascendance of the Roman Empire and immediately prior to the time when the north African possessions were severed from the Empire by rebellion. O’Donnell gives us a picture of Augustine’s entire life, much of which would be missing by those who choose to read only The Confessions. The focus in the book is both biographical and theological, as much of Augustine’s later life was occupied with defending the religion that was supported by the Emperor in Rome and in sparring with other contenders, who had nearly equally powerful supporters throughout the Empire. At that time, of course, the protagonists and antagonists were all Christian; however, they had quite different notions of emphases in theological purity, such that many convicted believers were even willing to die for to support. 

The biography briefly reviews Augustine’s early life in North Africa, his training and teaching of rhetoric there, his move to Italy and involvement with Manichaeanism, his subsequent move to Milan and the influence of Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, and Augustine’s  subsequent conversion to Christianity. Prior to his conversion and despite his mother’s Christianity, Augustine was a Manichaean, a student of the Persian religion that had spread throughout the Roman Empire and that taught that knowledge was the key to salvation.  We learn of his return to North Africa and somewhat unexpected ordination and election as bishop in the rather unassuming town of Hippo, which lay several hundred miles to the west of Carthage, the governmental and economic center of the province. The majority of the book recounts Augustine’s theological concerns with a variety of what he considered heresies and which he fought against over the years. 

It should be noted that being a bishop in Augustine’s time was not quite the same as being a bishop today. Even most rather small cities had their own bishop. In addition, when Augustine returned to North Africa, his sect was the minority brand of Christianity in the area. Donatism, which flourished in North Africa at the time, was the ascendant variant of Christianity, a sect which strongly censured and refused to readmit to the church those who had fallen away during the Diocletian persecution (303-305 AD).  Theological battles between Augustine’s Caecilianists and the schismatic Donatists lasted for a generation; however, the minority party was supported by Emperor, and by the time of Augustine’s death, the party of Rome had won out, and the bishops of Rome had also nearly succeeded in their invention of themselves as the legitimate standard-bearers of Western Christianity. Augustine spent the final years of his life battling Pelagianism,  another heresy, which denied the validity of Original Sin. As a postscript to Augustine’s life, shortly after his death, North Africa was overtaken by Vandals, who had entered the area on invitation from the rebellious general Boniface, but who had decided to subdue not only the Roman citizens but also Boniface and his co-revolutionaries as well. The Vandals were Arians, and they, by force, stopped non-Arian Christian practices in North Africa after conquering the area. Arianism was a “heretical” sect to which the Germanic tribes subscribed, that had a different understanding of the nature of the relationship between Jesus and God the father than Roman Christianity. 

The frequent flashes of brilliance in the author’s writing and the insights that he offers are well worth the more tedious recounting of Augustine’s continual efforts at ridding the church of heresy and supporting conformity to the established Church of the Western Empire. Read in conjunction  with the author’s Ruin of the Roman Empire broadens further the reader’s understanding of the so-called barbarian invasions and of the sectarian conflicts within the Christianity of the time.

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