I’ve been reading about Martin Luther recently. Quite an exciting story really: deeply religious god-fearing monk confronts the powers of a Roman Church that in the 15th century was pretty much absolute. The newly developed printing press provided a means for the prolific Luther to convey his dissatisfaction with a corrupt church to a more than receptive peasantry who bought into his conception that redemption was justified through faith alone and could be accomplished by the individual without a mediating clergy.
As tensions rose so did the peasantry who overran monasteries, burned churches, looted and murdered indiscriminately in God’s name. Luther, rethinking what he had started, turned on the peasants, encouraging the established powers to put them all to the knife.
Later in life Luther took responsibility for the peasant uprising as well as their ultimate slaughter at the hands of political and Papal authorities. In explanation he responded: ‘God commanded me to speak as I did.’ I guess his personal messages from God might have inspired him to vehemently denounce, demonize the Papists and Jews as well because he attacked those folks with particular zeal, not to mention his denunciations of the Calvinists, humanists and Anabaptists. His absolute certainty that God had shown him the only true way to salvation, justification through faith alone, displayed a zealotry that rather than bringing mankind together in a peaceful harmony did just the opposite.
Well, on the positive side, I guess Martin’s actions in the 16th century gave Lutheran church fathers a lot to think about over the centuries. The idea of justification through faith alone must require a lot of explaining.
I’ve been aware for some time of the existence of a mysterious algorithm alive within the internet that feeds me stories and information it thinks I want to see. It’s usually pretty much right on and I’m assuming it (the algorithm) does the same to everyone who shops on-line or just surfs the web.
Having become aware of this insidious (being?) hovering over my every search I find a couple of things disturbing: I think twice about seeking out a sight that might generate pop-ups that I would find embarrassing should someone happen to be looking over my shoulder at the wrong moment. And, I’m somewhat concerned that my political perspectives are being reinforce daily when it would be to my benefit if I were to receive a more balance view, although, as the algorithm knows, I prefer reading such reinforcement so am inclined to stay on-line longer, which, I guess, may very well be the algorithm’s intention.
So, as I participate in what I always thought to be pure freedom of unrestricted surfing, searching out information, shopping or whatever, I’m being manipulated by an entity who is essentially satisfying my desires and inclinations whether I want it to or not. I don’t think I’m in a filter bubble, or anything, I do get news feeds I don’t agree with but every once in awhile I contemplate escape. I wonder what would happen, if I’d be followed were I to make the plunge into the deep web?
I happened upon a news item the other day that reported researchers have found how the medieval church’s prohibition on marriage between relatives promoted, over time, some very positive results for the cultural developments of mankind. Scientists attribute to the ban the reduction of clannish behaviors, broader social cooperation and an individualism that produced free thought and new ideas leading to considerable progress in the development of western societies.
I got to thinking about why exactly the church might have decided to take such a stance in a time well before knowledge of the genetic dangers of inter-breeding were known. Then I happened upon a conjecture by researchers that suggested that disrupting and reducing clan structures created a situation where less inheritors for family properties made it more likely that, sans descendants to pass the farm to, the church would become a likely recipient seeing as how those medieval folks were pretty convinced an extended and fairly unpleasant time in purgatory awaited them and that such time could be shortened through the intercession of the church fathers.
Boy, as much as I might like to think of the church’s intentions as positive there all too often seems to have been ulterior motives.
I’ve been coming across some new terms in my readings lately that seem to indicate a bit of cultural shift or maybe potential social upheaval in the ways we all relate to each other. The term ‘woke’, I find, suggests the importance of paying closer attention to sexist or racial slights that have existed for a long time and need to be called out. These slights or ‘micro-aggressions’ marginalize minority groups and really have no place, I totally agree, in public discourse.
I’m just wondering, if, perhaps, some of us are spending too much time, looking too hard for slights and questionable behaviors , and are, thereby, bordering on adherence to ‘safetyism’ in which emotional reasoning distorts what reality actually offers, because now, I read, the paintings of Paul Gauguin, the 19th century French painter are being petitioned for museum removal because of the artist’s dalliances with underage girls during his years in Tahiti.
Considering the personal behaviors of some of the other art world notables, Leonardo and Michelangelo among them, I fear the cancel culture, given free reign, could erase a whole lot of the history of western civilization.
I’ve been reading lately about the differing perspectives among certain religious scholars in medieval times, and earlier too, as the church fathers gradually constructed through biblical interpretation the dogmatic beliefs which formed the essence of the Christian religion.
As one might imagine deciphering meaning from sacred texts led to conflicting beliefs, then power struggles within a church hierarchy that became more interested in material gain than saving souls, overtime producing a church that treated it’s parishioners less as children of God than as prey, selling indulgences that were claimed to be one’s ticket directly to heaven, which was a big deal because the fear of the tortures of purgatory was so embedded in people’s minds that extortion was pretty easy to practice. So, with the clergy in complete control, calling the shots, getting rich off of indulgences, the parishioners cowed into subservience, things weren’t looking too good for an extended run of a religion that began as a promise of true salvation to an oppressed people of meager prospects.
Jumping ahead a few centuries we find that the church did survive and has pretty well got it’s act together, you know, practicing honest concern for those in need and pursuing the spiritual well being of it’s community, not demanding unreasonable alms and recognizing, for the most part, the legitimacy of other belief systems.
They should, though, probably work on staying out of politics.
I’ve been reading about a phenomenon occurring within the social milieu of high school students. It appears there’s a censorial application called ‘cancelling’ that groups impose upon those they find to be politically incorrect (you, know, from a high school perspective), out of sync or in some way offensive to the group. The cancelled individual becomes persona non grata, looses any sort of identity or recognition and is ignored as non-existent, which, I suspect, among socially needy adolescents may very well be devastating.
I can kind of understand negative reaction to someone spouting racist, sexist or misogynistic commentary among their peers, those whom the offender might wish to befriend. But it seems at some point confrontation is warranted. An attempt, maybe, to understand the offender’s point of view or at the very least informing him/her that his/her comments are upsetting and inappropriate, whereby an understanding may be reached, a consolidation of views that will reasonably determine the potential or lack thereof for future friendship.
Maybe the social milieu of politicized adults could benefit from similar interventions.
I find myself spending a lot of time, lately, following the real-time reality drama that is the daily news. As soap operas go, the story lines, being divisive and antagonistic to a considerable degree, don’t lend themselves to feel-good reaction, but I’m captivated, hard-pressed to turn away from the unfolding events available to me almost as soon as they happen. What I’m experiencing in moments of contemplation between bombardments is more often than not anger and anxiety as soundbites reemerge in my thoughts.
So, It’s pretty clear this obsession of mine is interfering with my true goal of achieving eudaemonia: a peaceful tranquility beneficial in so may ways, manifesting in personal health and greater care for others, which, it’s additionally clear to me is a vastly superior stance to dwelling on issues beyond my capacity to change in any meaningful way.
Time, I guess, to shut down the laptop, turn off the Newshour, catch my breath and re-establish the countenance that I know will make me happier and more useful.
I’ve been reading about some pretty disturbing trends on college campuses these days. It appears there’s a growing tendency to eliminate curricula and class discussion that might be offensive to sensitive students who will, it’s purported, wilt under the exposure to real world beliefs inconsistent with their own.
The push-back against ‘offensive’ commentary has gained legitimacy, been embraced by some faculty (mostly members of the psychology departments, I bet) empowering some students to employ censorial behaviors, shutting down class discussions and disrupting lectures by certain visiting speakers who are found to be unacceptable to the beliefs and delicate sensibilities of the sophomoric sophomores.
What seems to be happening, rather than lively debate on important issues, is an elimination of discussion and reinforcement of the inclination of our primitive brains to tribalize: nothing as comforting as an easily identifiable evil to rail against.
I have to wonder if some of our educational institutions have lost site of their essential purpose: to create strong creative thinkers able to make a difference.
Upon reflection it’s become apparent to me that the idea of fear can be thought about in different ways: there’s practical fear related to immediate concerns for family, friends and personal survival and then there’s the existential fear of one’s life ending, the inevitable extinction we all face. Well, at least those of us not expecting the heavenly reward of immortality. For those whose strong beliefs and strong faith lead them to the second scenario I guess there’s not much to think about other than to stay on the straight and narrow. Even these folks, I suspect, have an occasional doubt in between Sunday reassurances.
The question, then, becomes, for pretty much all of us, how best to deal with the inevitable end to our earthly existence. The fear, of course, isn’t death itself since once dead fear isn’t an issue. The fear is the anticipation, the preliminaries; potential debilitating illness, loss of control over your life, possibly the inability to be of support any longer to those who depend on you. All one can hope to do, I guess, as one nears death is to realize the inevitability of such events and approach them with dignity and the knowledge that a good life has been led (which hopefully is within the realm of reasonable truth).
Anyway, I haven’t time to dwell on it all: I’ve got people to see, errands to run and projects to complete. I have a life to live in the eternity of now.
I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of fear. It is, after all, a psychic inevitability that we all must wrestle with, something we can only experience in the moment as relating to something that potentially could occur in the future. Personally, I accept anxiety as a familiar if not constant companion, worrying as I do in the abstract about national and global issues and more specifically about intimate relationships and personal situations.
The ancient Stoic’s stance, intended, no doubt, to ease one’s mind, reduce internal acidic build-up and so forth is an intellectual one requiring strength of mind. Don’t dwell, the thought goes, on that outside of one’s control, act when it’s possible to act, set aside thoughts of potentially dire events that you have no possibility of affecting. Such advice pretty much rules out agonizing over most of what one hears and sees on the news, and, as I think about it few of my personal concerns for family and friends are within my power to affect in any meaningful way. The Stoics, I’m sure, would counsel me to let events take their courses, let things play out as they will.
So I guess I’ll just try to stay informed, vote when the opportunity presents itself and give folks a call once and awhile so they know I care.