Friday, July 22, 2011

Is it possible to be good and be right?

Today I came face to face with a paradox that has bedeviled me for years. There are two kinds of desirable or admirable people and it seems nearly impossible to be the best of both at the same time.

Good people are attentive to the needs of others, kind to their neighbors, hard workers, honest taxpayers, the whole bit. These people can rarely explain why one should be good. Often they don't understand what "good" means, if they even believe that their behavior is merely "normal." (Not!).

Principled people hold opinions and beliefs that they can cogently justify and explain. They distinguish between mere concurrence or sequence of situations and a causal relationship between one and the other. Most of the time, however, they are too clever by half and no one can really can get along with them, especially if they happen to be right.

The good and the principled are as oil and water. The good could stop do-gooding for a moment to enunciate why goodness is best. The principled could relax and do some good, instead of always insisting on knowing why something should be done. Neither does alter course for very long, if ever.

It's rare to find someone who embodies the best of both. If you do, let me know.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What if the USA defaults?

First I voted Republican in a municipal election, now I'm about to say "maybe Michele Bachmann is right." There. I've said it. OMG, what have I done? I've just sat back and accepted that the Republicans will hold their breath, stamp their feet and churlishly say, "No, Daddy, I don't wanna raise the debt ceiling!" And on August 2 ...

... what? At first, nothing.

On Tuesday, August 2, Uncle Sam won't be able pay all his bills and at some point that day, either President Obama or Secretary of the Treasury Geithner will make a statement concerning the plans of the U.S. government. I assume that someone in the White House or Treasury or Pentagon, or all three, is already developing plans of action.

Here are a few possibilities for that first week.

The stock markets will probably dip quite a bit: 500 to 1,000 points of the Dow index in the first morning. The face value of U.S. treasuries will likely drop dramatically. Investors will flee the U.S. dollar ... but to what in a world in which almost every currency in the world has some dollar in it? Any future borrowing by the USA will probably become very expensive -- deepening the national debt. Prices will begin to shoot up. Riots in the streets? Doubt it. Where have American rioters been these past three years?

Then there's the ripple effect. If the exports-driven German boom faces a U.S. market with devalued dollars that can't afford Mercedeses and BMWs and Braun shavers ... there goes Germany. Then France, then England. Then the rest of Europe and Japan. Most of the rest of the world is, unhappily, already there. Many countries have defaulted and quite a few are on the brink. Like us.

But let's not forget China, the prime holder of U.S. debt. What if China decides to come grab some collateral it has coming ... say, New York City or Los Angeles? China's standing army is somewhat larger than that of the USA. But grab a hold of this fact: China has 385 million men and 363 million women potentially available for military service. That's twice the U.S. population and then some. And they have nuclear weapons. But, OK, even China can't invade instantaneously.

So, what happens in a world in which the full faith and credit of the U.S. government no longer means much of anything certain?

It's a good time to pick up asceticism as a way of life, Franciscan or Buddhist or whatever flavor you like. Give all you have to your fellow poor. It's worthless, anyway.

Then fast and begin chanting your Hail Marys or merely "Ommmmm ..."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What if Jesus had been a woman?

Responses to my blog yesterday hinged mostly on my use of the feminine pronoun for God. I can explain that1, but this is not the point of this post. Here I am using the magic wand of the imagination to propose that instead of Jesus, or Joshua, of Nazareth, there was once a Jocelyn of Nazareth.2

This fun experiment is suggested by one commenter who, unasked, offered apologetics about why Jesus was a man. The assertion that Jesus was male, assuming he was a historical person, which I often doubt, has not been seriously questioned insofar as I know. But let's question it.

Let's say that Myriam (Mary) had a girl whom she named Jocelyn.

Joss would not have been presented at the Temple, nor circumcised. She most certainly would not have had occasion to befuddle the rabbis one Passover in Jerusalem as a child; such men would not admit a girl into their presence.

The Lady (I'm going for a parallel for "Lord") would not have been trained in woodwork by Joseph. No sirree, Bob! She would have been taught to keep a kosher home by Mary.

Assuming she had been passed over, so to speak, by marriageable young men until she was 30, she would have deemed been a mature spinster woman in her society when she began her ministry. She would never have had the occasion of preaching in her synagogue in Nazareth. Women in traditional synagogues, which they all were then, were never asked to read from the scrolls of Scripture, much less allowed to comment on them.

However, Joss would have been accepted easily as a miracle worker, or healer, given the traditional nurturing role of women, and this role would have drawn a following.

It's the gospel discourses that are problematic. Would a Jewish woman be even allowed to speak in public in first century Palestine? Doubtful.

The passion and death, however, might be plausible. Instead of being crucified by Romans, she would have been stoned to death by (male) fellow Jews for breaking any one of the countless taboos within which women were imprisoned in her society. Her stopping the stoning of the adulteress would be seen as prefiguring her own stoning.

Instead of a cross on top of church spires, there would be a stone. There might not have been male priests at all, of course, until recent times. Christianity would have been a decidedly feminist matriarchal religion until these enlightened days.

The Eucharist elements of bread and wine (the latter, as a stand-in for blood, is far too problematic for words), might be replaced by latkes and water, symbolizing a woman's nurture and perhaps the breaking of a woman's waters before giving birth.Of course, the creed would go, "We believe in God the Mother ... and in Her only Daughter ..."

Hmm ... altogether a not unpleasant upending of the world as we know it.

1. God, if God exists, is obviously neither male nor female. However, for the past 5,000 to 10,000 years God has been anthropomorphized as male. In my small way, I'm attempting to balance that error. I promise I'll stop in about 10,000 years.

2. Some people suggest that in English Jocelyn might be the female for Joshua, which is likely the name of the woodworker from Nazareth, Yeshua in Hebrew, rather than the Latin Jesus. Spanish, of course, has Jesusa, a name I have only known to be given to women born in Spain.

Monday, July 11, 2011

How the Christian God came to clash with the Universal Echo

It takes going to a Sunday Eucharist after years of absence to notice with an unaccustomed clarity that the Christian God, by belief, is so particular so clearly "out there" and distinct from us, that this divinity could not easily fold into my admittedly diffuse notion of the Universal Echo (see here).

The Christian God does not easily submit to the idea of being a figment of our imagination. No, She insists on being triune, transcendent, incarnated, the giver of specified promises, the forger of everything. Her only Son insists on being a first-century Palestinian Jew from a small, nay insignificant, little town that was not even part of Judea, the then-existing vassal-kingdom of the Jews.

Jesus, or Joshua, as the name more likely was, insists on having been born of the Virgin Mary and executed by Pontius Pilate. This is by whom, in whom and to whom Christians pray.

I'm no longer sure this divinity can be conflated into the Universal Echo. The Christian God demands to be accepted on Her own terms.