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2023 May 28
This is what I wrote in 1969. What follows was in the WaPo, 2023.

21.  With surgical shaping of body and brain, the State crushes utterly!
     he shouted, fighting his way through the fleshy programmed robots,
     working on social security.
     The spirit controlled by a switchboard,
     the body is like a machine,
     the mind made lame,
     the soul disposable!

     O Brain! pricked with electronic spikes and probes
controlling emotion, action, consideration,
within the skull enlarged from infancy
to house the coils, the cords, the needles
and transistors needed to receive the orders
from a local console run by a local positivist
who loves control of his slave village and all the merit he will get if his boss is amused.

Elon Musk’s Neuralink says it has FDA approval for human trials:
What to know

By Daniel Gilbert and Faiz Siddiqui
Updated May 26, 2023 at 11:42 a.m. EDT|Published May 25, 2023 at 9:43 p.m. EDT

Neuralink, Elon Musk’s brain-implant company, said Thursday evening that it has regulatory approval to conduct the first clinical trial of its experimental device in humans.

Approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would mark a milestone for the company, which has been developing a device surgically inserted into the brain by a robot and capable of decoding brain activity and linking it to computers. Up until now, the company has conducted research only in animals.

“We are excited to share that we have received the FDA’s approval to launch our first-in-human clinical study!” Neuralink announced on Twitter, calling it “an important first step that one day will allow our technology to help many people.” Musk retweeted the post, congratulating his team.

Neuralink didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment late Thursday.

The FDA doesn’t typically confirm approvals for human clinical trials but offered a statement Friday. “The FDA acknowledges and understands that Neuralink has announced that its investigational device exemption … for its implant/R1 robot was approved by the FDA and that it may now begin conducting human clinical trials for its device,” an agency spokesperson said in a statement Friday.

Musk has prematurely touted regulatory approval in the past. In 2017, he wrote on Twitter that his tunneling firm, the Boring Company, had received “verbal govt approval” for an underground Hyperloop from New York to Washington, D.C. Officials at the time offered no direct confirmation of Musk’s claim — and it was clear there were no formal measures to approve such a project.

The race against Elon Musk to put chips in people’s brains

What is Neuralink?
Founded in 2016, Neuralink is a privately held firm with operations in Fremont, Calif., and a sprawling campus under construction outside of Austin. The company has more than 400 employees and has raised at least $363 million, according to data-provider PitchBook.

With Musk’s backing, Neuralink has brought extraordinary resources — and investor attention — to a field known as brain-computer interface, where scientists and engineers are developing electronic implants that would decode brain activity and communicate it to computers. Such technology, which has been in the works for decades, has the potential to restore function to people with paralysis and debilitating conditions like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Already, companies like Blackrock Neurotech and Synchron have implanted devices in people for clinical trials, and at least 42 people globally have had brain-computer implants. Such devices have enabled feats that once belonged to the realm of science fiction: a paralyzed man fist-bumping President Barack Obama with a robotic hand; a patient with ALS typing by thinking about keystrokes; a tetraplegic patient managing to walk with a slow but natural stride.

While most companies seeking to commercialize brain implants are focused on those with medical needs, Neuralink has even bigger ambitions: creating a device that not only restores human function but enhances it.

“We want to surpass able-bodied human performance with our technology,” Neuralink tweeted in April.

Elon Musk says Neuralink is about six months away from human trials

What is Neuralink’s brain chip technology?
The company has designed an electrode-laden computer chip to be sewn into the surface of the brain, and a robotic device to perform the surgery. Neuralink is pursuing a more invasive, high-bandwidth approach than some of its rivals, betting that its configuration will transfer data from brain to computer more rapidly than devices with fewer electrodes or that sit outside the brain’s surface. Musk envisions that the devices could be regularly upgraded.

“I’m pretty sure you would not want the iPhone 1 stuck in your head if the iPhone 14 is available,” Musk said at an event in late November, where he predicted Neuralink would begin human trials in six months.

Neuralink has highlighted Musk’s penchant for showmanship, implanting a computer chip in a monkey and teaching him to play the computer game Pong with his mind. But the company has also given lengthy, highly technical presentations on its technology, discussing such topics as how it will mitigate the risk of brain tissue scarring and a diminishing electronic signal from the implant.

The company has also drawn criticism for its research on animals from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which has called for an investigation into “serious safety concerns” arising from its practices.

“Musk needs to drop his obsession with sticking a device in our heads,” Ryan Merkley, director of research advocacy with the Physicians Committee, said in a statement Friday. “If he cared about the health of patients, he would invest in a noninvasive brain-computer interface.”

A clinical trial for the device in humans is no guarantee of regulatory or commercial success. Neuralink and others are bound to face intense scrutiny by the FDA that their devices are safe and reliable, in addition to facing ethical and security questions raised by a technology that could confer a cognitive advantage to those with an implant.

When will clinical trials in humans begin?
It is unclear when clinical trials might begin. A patient registry on Neuralink’s website indicates that only patients with certain conditions — including paralysis, blindness, deafness or the inability to speak — are eligible to participate.

The brain-computer interface is one of Musk’s most ambitious bets in a business empire that spans electric cars to rockets propelling humans to space and that has grown most recently to encompass generative artificial intelligence and social media.

Musk earlier this year incorporated a company, X.AI, that aims to compete with Microsoft and Google after the tech giants launched large language-model chatbots that can answer a vast range of queries.

Meanwhile, he has been devoting much of his time in recent months to Twitter, the social media company he bought last year for $44 billion while pledging to restore “free speech.”

Musk’s frenetic schedule has him juggling commitments to each of the companies at once. He travels the country by private jet, visiting his Tesla factories and SpaceX launch sites and giving speeches for Twitter and visiting its Bay Area headquarters — sometimes all in the same week. Musk announced earlier this month that he was appointing advertising executive Linda Yaccarino as Twitter’s chief executive, relieving him of some of the responsibility for overseeing the social media platform that has been plunged into chaos since his takeover last year.

 The argument over Negro Creek in Johnson County raises related issues. If we rename streets and creeks to be virtue-signalers, we will never see the end of it, not in a million years, as future generations will find fault with newly named things. We can rename Jackson County (what a wicked president he was) and Johnson County (what a destroyer of culture and people he was), and seek to purify every taint in history with our own self-righteousness. But the future? We are currently focused on racial issues and pretty much ignore those presently honored who have contributed greatly to our environmental crises. Nobody pays much attention to the fact that the City celebrates human domination over nature by embracing the fountain formerly called Nichols Fountain: . And what about those who have corrupted our food supply with cancer-causing additives and packaging? We don't even know the names of those who in the future might be found gravely damaging society and the planet, and we are no doubt finding ways to honor them daily by naming awards and streets and subdivisions after them.


from a sermon by heidi H J Carter, St Paul's Episcopal Church, 230611

... the discerning ear of today's times doesn't actually make a distinction between religious folks and sinners -- not only because we are painfully aware of the brokenness and harm done across history by religious people, but we are, I believe,  self-aware enough to claim titles of both religious folks and sinners ourselves. I suspect that we are religious in the sense that we are here (sometimes) and also feel the tug of God's claim on our lives as mysterious and strange as that might be. And we are sinners in the sense that we allow fear, doubt, pride, and certainty to create this gap between that mystery and the humans who are our companions on this journey, especially those whom we believe are different from us in some way. We're comfortable with this gap and we allow it between us and them (frankly we prefer it) but this is the sin that Jesus came to love us through, not necessarily the giant and dramatic wins we commit, but this well-maintained and landscaped gap between us and who we decide are others. . . .

May 3, 2023

I did watch the Coronation. It was a marvelous work of liturgy, statecraft, and patriotic commitment and celebration. Especially touching was the kiss the son gave the father. The placement and dedication of the head of state within a profound and Christ-like call to public service and the welfare of all is a much-needed spiritual model. Amen.

I sometimes wonder if the minority of greedy American Colonists had not engaged in an unnecessary War of Revolution, whether our nation of violence (and, for a time, slavery) today might have advanced, evolving toward peace and justice, more successfully than we have. Our heritage of guns and racism are examples, lesser problems in England. While the Bristish Empire was hardly pacifist, neither has been the United States, the only nation so far to use atomic bombs, and even before, our own colinial empire, enforced by military an economic power, does not make us shine any brighter than the British or many other nations, with or without royalty.

 Please note that the English constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and Charles III made a point of recognizing Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, etc., faiths, as well as various Christian denominations, during the Coronation event. A Hindu, the PM, read a passage from the New Testament. I think a good argument can be made for such a tolerant State Church in historical context. The ensuing literature, music, architecture provides a rich cultural fabric that benefits all faiths. Also the performative character of royalty provides, in my view, an often safer excursion into excess than many sporting franchises. And the wealth of the royals can be defended by the work they do, and the wealth is trivial compared to some private holdings.For those who consider the pagentry a missuse of funds in a time of a hurting British and world population, consider, first, that the expenditure gave people employment and second, the impossibility of knowing whether an equitable distribution of the funds actually could have been spent in a better way boosting spiritual, public, civic, and household well-being. I favor the drastic reduction of inequality within nations, and gradually between nations, but in this world, such ostentation of varying degrees and worthiness continues by music icons, sports figures, and movie stars, as well as such as friends of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

As for royalty itself, again, evolving history suggests the value of separating the functions of head of state from head of government. While I do not wish the US to have an heritable head of state, I think combining both functions in the President is a mistake, an awkward and often unworkable burden on one person.

I suggest studying the commentary in 42-page Coronation program might enlarge one's perspective on the event.

Maggie Finefrock is Director of The Learning Project. A bit about her. In 1970, as a member of the Teacher Corps, she helped to desegregate Norfork State University. She served in the Peace Corps in Nepal 1982-85. She was co-director, then director of Kansas City's Harmony in a World of Difference, 1990-93. She led the Religion/Spirituality Cluster of the Mayor Cleaver's Task Force on Race Relations in 1996. She has taught cultural pluralism at UMKC and consults with other organizations on curriculum design. Here is a 2018 photo and caption of her discussing "pilgrimage" as my guest in a course I used to teach at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

Somehow I hope we muddle though this impaired focus on identity. If only folks would read their David Hume and take a peek an Buddhism's anatma-vada! -- the quest for identity(and labels and pronouns) sure looks often unhelpful and unhealthy at times to me. I don't doubt most people are well-meaning as they seek to relate to each other, but for those addicted to victimhood: let them read Nietzsche. It would also be nice if people read the Bible and decided from the best parts to be nice.


                                      2012? --

Turner: As far as we know, the basic building blocks of matter are quarks and leptons; the rules that govern them are described by the quantum field theory called the Standard Model. In addition to the building blocks, there are force carriers — the photon, of the electromagnetic force; eight gluons, of the strong color force; the W and Z bosons, of the weak nuclear force, and the Higgs boson, which explains why some particles have mass. The discovery of the Higgs boson completed the Standard Model.

But the quest for the fundamental rules is not over. Why two different kinds of building blocks? Why so many “elementary” particles? Why four forces? How do dark matter, dark energy, gravity and space-time fit in? Answering these questions is the work of elementary particle physics.

Spiropulu: The curveball is that we don’t understand the mass of the Higgs, which is about 125 times the mass of a hydrogen atom.

When we discovered the Higgs, the first thing we expected was to find these other new supersymmetric particles, because the mass we measured was unstable without their presence, but we haven’t found them yet. (If the Higgs field collapsed, we could bubble out into a different universe — and of course that hasn’t happened yet.)

That has been a little bit crushing; for 20 years I’ve been chasing the supersymmetrical particles. So we’re like deer in the headlights: We didn’t find supersymmetry, we didn’t find dark matter as a particle.

Turner. The unification of the forces is just part of what’s going on. But it is boring in comparison to the larger questions about space and time. Discussing what space and time are and where they came from is now within the realm of particle physics.


Thanks for your interest in interfaith dialogue. You may have already explored the CRES website. There are many ways interfaith dialogue in the Kansas City area has been practiced, to my mind now less effectively as a city-wide effort than in the past, but those that remain active are still important and your involvement would be welcome.

Here are two of the most active:

The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council meets monthly and distributes a weekly calendar.

The Dialogue Institute is a Turkish Muslim organization under the interfaith banner to promote an understanding of a form of Islam taught by Fethullah Gulen, although there work is not doctrinaire. Their website seems to be down. Dialogue Institute of Kansas City, 4215 Shawnee Dr, Kansas City, KS 66106-3642. Now, of course, they are focusing on earthquake relief.  Other Muslim groups here also welcome dialogue.

Have you taken the course, "Ministry in a Pluralistic World"? Where are you in your seminary studies?

I attach several PDFs that I think are important for appreciating this area from an academic point of view, and from in practice. If I were to recommend a single book, it would be InterActive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook. Skylight Paths, 2008. ISBN  13:978-1-59473-237-9

The CRES website has many resources, but I understand you are most interested in the actual practices of interfaith dialogue.

I should perhaps mention the monthly Vital Conversations, in March with a Muslim. You can attend in person or by Zoom.

Finally, let me share why I regard interfaith understanding so important. It is because the world is engulfed in three great crises: the environment, personhood, and social order. I beleive interfaith work can help us address these crises and give us an understanding of how they are interrelated, and thus bring us closer to a healing apprehension of the sacred. I have written about this, but this chart summarizes the CRES research program:

Thanks for remembering me from the wedding! Maybe this email can help you get started. Let me know if I can be of further help. And I'll be interested in what you discover as you persue interfaith activities.


2.7 Scholarly Study of Religion
3.2 Theologies of Religion
9.2 GuidelinesInterfaithConversations


Thank you for your continuing efforts at expanding interfaith understanding in our community, and raising clearly the contribution such understanding can make to the ethical and moral behavior for all of us as Americans.  And thank you for your contributions to the interfaith panel discussion convened by Country Club Christian Church Thursday.

I am sure it is a disappointment that you have not received responses to your letter to several churches extending your hospitality. I suppose that this time of year may be especially difficult for Christian churches preoccupied with preparing for major festivals, including Thanksgiving and, for the liturgical churches, Advent and then the Christmas season. This may be why your letter of Sept 27 is not currently receiving responses, although I do not know which churches were recipients, so there may be other reasons. Perhaps they were recently involved with visits to other mosques. Also late September for many churches is a time of reorganization after a summer variation. I am not trying to excuse a lack of responses, but many churches plan programs many months in advance. Of course there might be less favorable interpretations as well, which is why I admire your persistence.

One statement in your letter was particularly welcome, which I applaud with joy: "Good dialogue should result in the deepening of the faith of every participant." I want people to love their own faiths as much as I love mine. The fear some people have, that interfaith exchange will reduce commitment to their own faith is, experience has shown, not true, but rather the opposite happens, as participants are motivated to delve more deeply into their own faiths by the stimulation of encountering others. However, there is one statement in your letter with which I have reservations, that "our similarities as Americans are more significant than our differences." I think differences are to be respected and enjoyed, and both similarities and differences are important to recognize. I disagree with the composer that diversity always is uncomfortable (47 minutes, about 32 seconds into the recording of the panel Thursday). When I am introduced to a new person, I am delighted, not distressed. When I encounter a new idea, I am happy, not fearful. Perhaps our culture does make some people afraid of differences, but surely that is not always the case. Couples in love often speak of how much they appreciate how their partners are different and enlarge their understanding of the world, with that delight sparking their relationship at the very beginning. I worry that unskilled (though well-intentioned) people doing interfaith work inadvertently suggest fear of difference by working so hard to establish similarities.

I remember a call I received from a reader shortly after I had been hired by the KC Star to write a weekly column. She said something like, "I just love reading your column." I thanked her and asked why she liked it. "Because all religions are basically the same," she said, with an easy comfort in her voice. I was surprised and wondered if she actually had understood what I had written since I had been emphasizing variety. So I asked, "How many religions are you acquainted with?" She responded, "Oh, I don't need to study them. They are all the same." I find this distressing because the presumption of similarity leads to lazy comfort instead of the far more rewarding exploration without that presumption, and the possible discoveries by seeing new things or things in new contexts. Many sentimental people think that all religions worship the same Creator when in fact there are non-theistic faiths, without such a god.

Many scholars, while recognizing that "religion" is an Enlightenment-Modernist-Colonial construct with no exact equivalent outside the traditional Western context, still sometimes think of four dimensions of religion: Creed, Code, Cultus, and Community. Others (such as Ninian Smart) have identified seven or more such components. In any case, it may be useful to recognize that "religion" is more complex than just beliefs and behavior, and that different faiths are likely to emphasize some components over others. Christianity in general is more likely to emphasize beliefs over other dimensions compared to most other "religions," and I think we can avoid muddles by recognizing such distinctions. Identifying "religion" as "belief" or, less commonly, "behavior," is, in my view, a peculiar Western misunderstanding about the complexity of religious expression. As the world became colonized by Western ways of thinking, other faiths have sometimes sought to understand themselves in Western categories. To me, this is like the loss of languages as dominant languages crowd out indigenous tongues. Further, the assumption that I will learn about another religion by reading its text not only ignores oral traditions but confounds religions with texts that must be placed in context to be rightly appreciated. I guess I am somewhat uncomfortable with statements made by adherents of a particular religion about other religions without their adequate acquaintance with other religions; better to ask questions. While I admire the effort of the composer, the fact that she had an idea and went searching for texts with a preconceived purpose and had such difficulty finding texts that worked for her might indicate she has missed the distinctive character of each tradition; starting with a conclusion before a search begins sometimes means the temptation to miss critically important things you are not looking for that would otherwise lead to a different result. Of course no tradition cited is unrelated to others; boundaries between religions are seldom always clear; and tremendous variation within a religion is usual, and religions have historically influenced each other as they themselves have developed internally throughout the centuries.

You, Professor Benz, and others may have a different opinion about this, and I certainly would welcome learning your thoughts. I was surprised that none of the panelists, to my knowledge, has been historically involved with interfaith work in the area through the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, and it is wonderful to expand the circle of conversation as you, Imam Dr. Abdelhamid, are so determinedly doing.

Concerning  "Etiquettes of the Interfaith Dialogue" that you cite in your letter: there are a number of books that might be helpful. Two very different books from an interesting publishing house that come to mind immediately are

    * Stuart M. Matlins, ed., Arthur J. Magida, ed. How to Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook, 4th Edition. SkyLight Paths, 2006. ISBN-10: 159473140332, and
    * Bud Heckman, ed. InterActive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook. Skylight Paths, 2008. ISBN 13:978-1-59473-237-9.

Frankly, my brother, I think the question of similarities or differences is not the most urgent question before us. What is urgent are the three great crises of humanity: in the environment, in personhood, in community. Interfaith efforts have utterly failed, in my opinion, to bring the resources of the sacred in Primal, Asian, and Monotheistic traditions, respectively, to these overwhelming crises. (A suggestive chart of a research program appears here.) While developing relationships is absolutely essential, the disasters unfolding in these areas are being addressed only in tiny ways and largely without the profound religious values of the sacred made evident which are needed to awaken us to save us from disaster. In my view, a great deal of interfaith conversation has been, in this light, relatively inconsequential and speaking "to the choir."

It may be useful to distinguish at least two kinds of interfaith work. First, building relationships, I believe from experience, best focuses on the experience of the participants without the participants being cast into the position of being authoritative about their faiths. It is better to ask "When has your faith been especially meaningful to you?" than "What does your faith teach about God?"

Another kind of interfaith exchange is possible with participants knowledgeable about their faiths in which the conversation is focused on identifying and clarifying how different faiths approach issues like the arts, nature, ethics, service, suffering, death, worship, leadership, scripture, gratitude, the transcendent, and so forth. Such discussions need not be academic, though some level of comfort with scholarly approaches is helpful. Frankly, I am weary of discussing how we are all so similar. In four decades of interfaith work, I am not convinced that this approach produces many significant improvements in the world around us.

There are, of course, other forms of interfaith activity, such as performing social service together which can be of great value in helping others, developing relationships, and enlarging understanding. Dr Khan is a model for such important efforts.

You and I do not need to agree; I welcome disagreement; I know I can be mistaken. But I want to support your wholesome efforts any way I can. The community needs your beautiful and warm leadership and companionship. If you arrange a panel -- whether I am a part of it or not -- I would do what I can to promote it through my connections and resources, and I'd suggest that The Interfaith Center at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, also participate, and perhaps the group in Nevada I am in touch with. I imagine the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council would also be interested, and other interfaith organizations and agencies in the area with which we have worked, as well as the contacts that other panelists might bring to a Zoom panel discussion.

A clear question to explore, carefully articulated, might be interest to a large number of people. As for timing, I would suggest after Christmastide would be best, if that is enough time for adequate preparation and promotion. Please do not feel under any obligation to include me on the panel. Involving younger people has a  real advantage.But I would be happy to promote such an interfaith effort as you might pull together.

Most sincerely yours in faith,

Thank you for your thoughtfulness in working on your wedding ceremony! and for sending an early draft to me.

I will do what you want, and paganism is absolutely no problem for me. As founder of the Kansas City Interfaith Council, I specifically asked one of my pagan friends to be one of its 12 faith members -- Mike Nichols was the first pagan member. I like the idea of invoking "the Gods, Odin, Freyr, Thor, Freya and Hecate", but I must say I think a wedding should be a celebration of love and commitment, not an educational opportunity or a time for instruction. I know a lot of ministers give mini-sermons about the meaning of marriage, but in my opinion, by that point it's too late for the couple to benefit; if they haven't talked through their relationship by then, I doubt that any thing an officiant will say will be particularly effective; and an advertisement for the officiant's own faith, or that of the couple, greatly detracts, in my view, from the reason people want to join the couple for the occasion, which is to witness and celebrate.

Some of this is a matter of phrasing more than content. For example, the draft Welcome Statement to me seems more like a statement (the draft even calls it a Statement), rather than a greeting. When people you've invited to your home for dinner arrive, you don't say, "We meet this evening to enjoy each other's company. Socializing with friends has many benefits and tonight I want you to learn about the ocean and the river and the gifts of the North." You say, "Welcome! Come in! Can I take your jacket? I have some gifts of the North I'm eager to show you." The welcome is to your guests, not to you. You've invited them.

Another example: in your draft, he celebrant introduces the Ring Exchange this way: "Now it is time to exchange the rings." Another Statement. Far more interesting, in my opinion would be the celebrant asking a question, such as "'To confirm your love and loyalty, will you exchange rings?" This moves the action along, instead of working through a manuscript.  The meaning of the rings can certainly be explained, but better as a response than straight instruction.

The one thing in the draft I find most a problem is the sexist, patriarchal "you may kiss the bride" instruction. A fuller explanation of my view:  --  3

I am surprised that your draft seems more words than ritual. When I started reading the draft, I expected something like censing the four (or six or ten) directions, or hand-fasting, or jumping over the broom. Your guests would find rituals you perform more interesting than hearing words spoken by me they will quickly forget, and I think you'd remember rituals more than words, too.

As I say, I will do what you wish, but having performed well over a thousand weddings in my career (I wrote a number of columns about weddings in The Kansas City Star), I am more eager to help couples create a joyous celebration of their love and commitment through ritual than I am to act in my professorial role--that's for the seminary.

One more time I will say I will do what you want. But if, having written as I have, you would prefer to work with someone else, I will assist you and Pilgrim Chapel to find another officiant. While I am happy to make suggestions as I have, I am eager for your wedding to be what you want it to be. I do appreciate your thoughtfulness in working on your wedding ceremony and for sending an early draft to me. I think I would really enjoy working with you, but I wanted to be "up-front" with you about my approach in case you had not considered the points I have identified. You need not agree or adopt them, but I feel my duty is to raise such points for your consideration.  

23012 2
In the case of The Star, it was not the perpetual disappointment in the paper that led me to cancel subscription after decades of loyalty; I was proud to be a subscriber and supporter of its often flawed but critically important work. It was the damn subscription process that went haywire. I have a lot more trust in the reporters than the managers. Now I guiltily read The Star faithfully and freely on the KC Public Library website. I do pay for the NYTimes and WaPo. Too many failed efforts at subscribing have led me to balance my shame as a free-loader with some sort of stupid self-righteous principle to protest the management. I am still shocked when I run into folks who have a stake in the life of the city who do not read The Star.


God told the Jews not to eat pork. Muslims, too. God should have also said, "Hey, Everybody! Lay off eating my animals altogether, at least as much as you can. The methane those creatures produce will destroy the planet I worked so hard* to make, and meat is not so good for your health."

*I'm still resting - have you noticed? - too tired to stop the floods, tornadoes, drought, etc.

Food choices do not indicate politics:



William Ophuls’s Apologies to the Grandchildren

Ophuls begins his essay with stark words: ”Civilization is, by its very nature, a long-running Ponzi scheme. It lives by robbing nature and borrowing from the future, exploiting its hinterland until there is nothing left to exploit, after which it implodes.” He continues by saying that civilization “generates a temporary and fictitious surplus that it uses to enrich and empower the few and to dispossess and dominate the many. Industrial civilization is the apotheosis and quintessence of this fatal course.”

He goes on to write these blunt words to the grandchildren, “A fortunate minority gains luxuries and freedoms galore, but only by slaughtering, poisoning, and exhausting creation. So we bequeath you a ruined planet that dooms you to a hardscrabble existence, or perhaps none at all” (p. 1)

--Leroy Seat,


I think the bottom line for me is that a Buddhist (ecological) way of understanding the world (pratitya-samutpada, codependent origination) makes more sense to me than a Platonic or Emanationist understanding. I have studied Kabbalah a bit, but it is so much an artifice and never seems to explain away - or acknowledge - the basic contradiction of perfection falling.

Yes, I agree that the foundational principle of Thomism is "Being is intelligible,"which is why, though I respect that rationalistic impulse, I find it insufficient, as Aquinas himself did when he had his mystic vision at the end of his life, considering his work as straw.

Of course there is something like a "Perennial Philosophy." But it does not characterize important religions. It appears in many, but may not be at their core, and often is at their periphery. And I think loosing the insights they bring shows the inadequacy of the "Perennial Philosophy," especially as inflected in the West today, it is a form of degenerate Protestantism. Which is why the 3-part research scheme of CRES was developed.

Although I prefer Aristotle to Plato, I sign as
Your non-Aristotelian, non-Platonic friend, V

In the Ethics, Aristotle (or his student note-taker) conceives of humans as capable of both rational and irrational (other creatures as well). At one point, he declines to say how rational and irrational are distinguished, like a concave and convex surface, or like separate bodies. (Book 1, ch 13.) One cannot read Aristotle without amazement at the scope and subtlety of thought and often detail of observation, as well as his knowledge of the preSocratics. Aristotle's discussion of such topics as rationality range throughout the enormous Aristotelian corpus that we have, but without a systematic and focused treatment of human nature. I have to defer to Paul on the question of Being as intelligible. I do have parts of De Anima marked in my copy (I cite 2:11 in my book of sonnets, #142), but I apparently have not marked the passage Paul cites.

The Perennial Philosophy does not characterize important religions. It appears in many, but may not be at their core, and often is at their periphery. And I think the particular and unique insights they bring, neglected in the Perennial Philosophy, shows the inadequacy of the Perennial Philosophy. As inflected in the West today, it is a form of degenerate feel-good Protestantism. Which is partly why the 3-part research scheme of CRES was developed.



Pilgrimage can be understood in at least three ways. 1. A
literal journey to a place of special significance with an openness to, or intent of, personal transformation, enlightenment, or commitment.  Canterbury, Mecca, Bodh Gaya are traditional pilgrimage sites. 2. A metaphorical journey as one explores or works through an opportunity or perplexity. Joseph Campell's Hero with a Thousand Faces develops a 3-part schema for this process. 3. The repeated journey one regularly makes to one's religious temple for refreshment and renewal, as worshipers each Sunday return to St Paul's, our axis mundi, for the Bread of Life. My literal pilgrimage to Mt Hiei, for example, though Buddhist, and the literal annual Memorial Day protest march to the Honeywell plant, though purportedly secular, deepens and widens my Sunday pilgrimage to an encounter with the Living Christ at St Paul's. I try to use my 400 steps walking to St Paul's as a reminder I am always on pilgrimage, and how blessed I am to find the Center again and again with you at St Paul's.


Yes, Iran and Saudi Arabia, both largely created by Western imperialism, with the love of oil on one hand, and the CIA's overthrow of Mosaddegh (also because our and the Brit's, love of oil), have governments claiming to be Islamic, just as Russia has a govt claiming to be Christian, not to mention Orban in Hungary. So you have two wicked govts claiming to be Islamic that we created ruling 130 million people, out of 1.8 billion Muslims on the planet. Don't get me started on Turkey.

It is always important to distinguish the use those seeking power make of religion from the religion itself. A minor but to some humorous example: One only has to look at Donald ("Two Corinthians") Trump holding a Bible in front of an Episcopal Church to see how a politician who knows nothing about the faith he claims will use it hypocritically. The Iranian leaders are not hypocritical, but manifest the same use of religion for power.

We are so lucky to have some Zoroastrians in Kansas City! (Only about 200,000 in the world.)



The author of this essay, Hans Boersma, teaches at Nashotah House, a Wisconsin theological seminary in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, where some Episcopalians train for the priesthood. I am so embarrassed.

I found this essay interesting in that it identifies two objections to the Platonic tradition that Christians must make -- it is unBiblical and it is otherworldly. Boersma then softens the objections and asserts that the  Great Tradition is an adoption [he should have written "adaption") of a Platonic metaphysic or worldview that at key points takes exception to the Platonic tradition from which it borrows. He also discusses the hierarchical structure of Platonism and the conflict between Platonism and  trinitarianism.

"But why then borrow from Platonism at all? Why not simply go with the unadulterated gold of the biblical faith and toss out the Platonist dross?" Unfortunately, Boersma's answer - Christianity rejected Epicureanism - is pretty thin. Boersma seems to think it is an either/or situation. In fact Christianity's Great Tradition incorporates many sources, and there are many options besides either Platonism or Epicureanism.

Here is one particularly risible passage in the essay:

"Christian Platonism helps us to read Scripture as Scripture - As a result, in the secularism of modernity, observable objects are defined by their DNA, and historical events are simply the result of this-worldly cause and effect. Both created objects and historical events are shorn of their transcendent horizon. Sensible objects are form-less, and historical events without providential backdrop."

This assessment of nonPlatonic biblical interpretation is crude and astonishingly ignorant of both Roman Catholic and Protestant biblical hermeneutics, from Platonist Origen (who criticized the Platonic thought of Celsus) to more recent approaches such as by Paul Ricœur.

In Vernum Domini, Benedict XVI says ( 29b, "Here we can point to a fundamental criterion of biblical hermeneutics: the primary setting for scriptural interpretation is the life of the Church." This is not Platonic. See also Paul VI's Dei Verbum, 12.

I am fine with anyone being a Christian Platonist, or Christian Existentialist (like Kierkegaard), or a Christian Aristotelian (like Aquinas) or Christian neoPlatonist (like Anselm), or whatever. The Christian faith is wide and very deep, and there are many kinds of people, so I am glad there are many ways to approach the throne of God. But I resent the insinuation that I am not part of the Great Tradition if I am not a Christian Platonist. Jesus not a Platonist.

On 2023-01-16 10:22 PM, Paul Haughey wrote:

Vern Barnet is a religious leader and author who has written extensively about the intersections of spirituality and daily life. He is the founder and director of the Center for Religious and Spiritual Studies (CRES) in Kansas City, Missouri.

One of Barnet's key beliefs is that spirituality should be a central part of daily life, rather than being relegated to just one hour a week in a religious service. He encourages individuals to find their own spiritual path, rather than adhering to a specific doctrine or belief system.

Barnet also emphasizes the importance of interfaith dialogue and understanding. He believes that different religions and belief systems can learn from one another and that by understanding and respecting different perspectives, we can create a more peaceful and harmonious world.

Another belief of Barnet's is that the concept of "religion" should be expanded to include non-traditional spiritual practices and beliefs. He argues that traditional religious institutions often do not adequately address the spiritual needs of many individuals and that alternative forms of spirituality should be recognized and respected.

Barnet also stresses the importance of social and environmental justice. He believes that spiritual practices should be used to inspire individuals to work for the betterment of so



 I applaud Anton's adding some nuance to my concerns about the unthinking praise of the Enlightenment in the original article under consideration -- with apologies for inadvertently sneaking in 5 points instead of 4 by my mis-numbering.

Anton is right; the history is complicated, and it isn't always easy to be sure of what influenced what. I don't blame the Enlightenment for Roger Bacon's 1620 natura vexata, for example, but I have to think he helped get it started. I certainly begin the list with Plato, and confidently include Descartes, among those who bequeathed to us a pervasive dualism.

I am especially intrigued by the idea Anton presents about the disenchantment of the world arising from, or made possible by, at least some strains of Hebraic monotheism. This and other points merit further discussion: why were religious leaders during the Enlightenment arguing against it? -- was it power or theology or what? To what extent is the secularization of the churches a product of the Reformation, which preceded the Enlightenment itself? How do the forces of capitalism in themselves affect a pervasive sense of secularity? 

I don't  know how to estimate the prevalence of harmful "woke-ness" in higher education from the flurry of articles about it, but the shocking way the president of Hamline handled the controversy there, taken up by the Journal of Higher Education as well as others, and what seems to me to be a disastrous take-over of the Unitarian Universalist denomination (such that I quit my membership in the UU ministers' association) fill me with disgust at the betrayal of the ideals of liberal education and what was once a liberal denomination.


On 2023-02-19 8:58 PM, Anton Jacobs wrote:

I have taken too long to reply to Vern's response to my referencing the Enlightenment favorably, so you might just want to delete this email after this first sentence. I've been busy teaching again and taken up with other matters, although I've thought about Vern's comments, off and on. My and Vern's original references to the Enlightenment were cryptic in the extreme; his response less so, as will be mine here, yet both are wanting of more exploration and dialogue.

Generally I agree with Vern's identifications of current problems in his numbers 1 through 4 but think attributing  these to the Enlightenment is far too broad a generalization.

(Let me say, as an aside, I don't disagree with his comment about lamenting colleges/universities turning away from vigorous debate when they do, but my suspicion is that this phenomenon has been blown out of proportion by the media and right-wing reaction. In the last ten years, I've taught extensively in one of the most secular and one of the most religious colleges you can imagine, and have not seen any evidence of this at all, compared to my experience in higher education as a student and professor 40-50 years ago. Perhaps I would see it more if I taught in a large university. I should ask some of my large-university colleagues and relatives.)

Back to the Enlightenment: The main point I want to make is that such linear attribution of cause on so wide a scale can only be partially correct. So I would, in the interest of further inquiry, cloud the issue here a bit. My frame will probably be a bit different from Vern's as well. I'm thinking of the desacralization of life and the reduction of the transcendent to specifically "religious," "individual," and "communal" experiences in the confines of churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, spiritual-but-not-religious individualism, and so on, which, if I understand Vern on this point regarding "making organized religion secular institutions," results in reducing the sense of transcendence itself. I'm informed as well by Max Weber's views on the disenchantment of the modern world, on which I once taught a whole course.

I want to suggest that a Hegel-Marx-informed understanding of the dialectical realities will see a more complicated and, I hope, truer reality than such generalizations as that we can blame the Enlightenment for this, that, or whatever. A framework influenced by the Hegel-Marx paradigm exposes a more nuanced and dialectical totality of historical reality. So the Enlightenment period and its consequences are better seen as a complex result of the contest between rationalist Enlightenment thinkers and religious, political, and romantic resistance and reactions, alongside the enormous forces of a developing capitalism and industrialization. After all, rationalist and scientific advancements were resisted tooth-and-nail by religious leaders, which is surely a factor in the extreme and even fundamentalist rationalism of scientific and Enlightenment thought. It is out of this contest, along with the forces of capitalism and industrialization that we get the world we have today.

Keep in mind that, per Harvey Cox (The Secular City), Western Judeo-Christianity itself initially separated the Divine from the creation itself, along with it radical monotheism, which is surely among the seeds and fertilizer of desacralization, secularization, and the liberation of rationalist thought. I once read that the Hebrew in Genesis for giving humankind dominion over the earth can also be translated as "exploit" and even "rape," although I've never confirmed that myself. The consequences fo secularization are not entirely bad; it is mixed. Then a Platonic-philosophically-and-Roman-imperalistically informed Christianity stamped out the Western Paganism that still contained a sense of both transcendence and the sacrality of earth and nature. (I might note that Ernest Gellner (Postmodernism, Reason and Religion) suggests that without the fundamentalist dogmatisms of Western religion, "the rationalist naturalism of the Enlightenment might well never have seen the light of day.")

I would say, too, we cannot ignore the contribution of the Reformation and the Protestant elevation of individual autonomy vis-à-vis God as a factor in the condition of our postmodern, postsecular world. I suspect that if we look closely enough, we'll find plenty of incipient desacralization, certainly in the seeds of  the "spiritual but not religious" trend, as well as others.

And, although Descartes is widely blamed by theologians and philosophers for the mind-body split, it seems to me we cannot ignore the likely contributions of Greek philosophy (notably Plato and Neo-platonism). Descartes's mind-body split was probably not cut from whole cloth.

Well, that's all I have to say at this time. It's probably taken too much of my time, as Vern's response probably took too much of his time, and, if you've read this far, too much of yours. But such dialogue is a kind of dance, and Nietzsche said we should count any day lost on which we have not danced at least once.


On Mon, Feb 6, 2023 at 12:39 PM Vern Barnet <> wrote:

Anton and I both referenced the Enlightenment -- he favorably, I not so. Permit a clarification, with the greatest respect and regard for Anton.

I applaud Enlightenment ideals such as democracy, fairness, quality, and such. I lament that colleges and universities have turned away from the Enlightenment ideal of the vigorous contest of ideas because somebody's feelings might be hurt. On such matters, count me pro-Enlightenment.

I wrote that " I do not think the article identifies the main problem with the Enlightenment, especially as it has affected religion." What I mean, in brief, is that the Enlightenment, continuing earlier trends,

(1) made organized religion secular institutions and thereby reduced the sense of transcendence associated with them and

(2) the mentality that nature is to be conscripted to our purposes rather than revered (the Romantics imperfectly reacted to this dimension of the Enlightenment),

(3) largely amplified a dualism between body and mind or spirit (Descartes most guilty), (4) developed a subject-object epistemology that neglected the presets of the perceiver, and

(4) created a sensibility about truth as facticity, resulting in Fundamentalism along with, in the larger culture, the disempowering of symbol, metaphor, and rite, leading to the unconscious quest for the sacred in partial ways -- from ComiCon idolization to political conspiracy to "I alone can fix it," fragmenting our nation and generating identity politics (and isolated communities) instead of the Beloved Community. This tacit quest for transcendence, undisciplined by historic experience, often becomes demonic.

Religious leaders have often been unaware of the destruction caused by the Enlightenment and its precursors, or ineffective in response. For many well-meaning people, church has become about moral direction and morale uplift, more than abandoning agendas to wait upon and encounter the Holy.

I agree with Anton on several other points, such as greed and capitalism. Tillich is not the last word, but he is a good word, a very good word.


On 2023-02-06 4:06 AM, Anton Jacobs wrote:
Here is my cynical take: First reaction: this is a very long and fairly simplistic sermon. Second reaction: it is idealistic, not giving nearly as much attention as it should to the materialistic foundation of capitalism and its culturally eroding power. Third reaction: in my view, we have not appropriated the Enlightenment ideals enough, overall. Fourth reaction what we have done, at least in the United States, is combine the barbarism and authoritarianism of Christian orthodoxy with the anarchism and greed of capitalism. Fifth reaction: by being an idealistic sermon, much like the sorts of things that David Brooks writes, it blames the victims. Our problem, they say, is that we’re not thinking right! Sixth reaction: I have finally gotten around to reading this long sermon just about the same time that I received an email from a friend inviting me to a two or three day, spiritual retreat by zoom for the bargain cost of only $175! We have an awful lot of spiritual huckstering going on in our society. Seventh reaction: I think we need to get back to reading Paul Tillich, as well as the secular existentialists, and their insights into the inescapable alienation and anxiety of being a living human being.


On 2023-02-05 5:57 PM, Vern Barnet wrote:
> David,
> If you are putting together a special discussion group for this purpose, please include me.
> Initial comments:
> * I fully agree that a lack of a sense of commonweal is acute and itself a crisis.   A portion of the essay's prescription, "to prioritize the common good and common life over private interest," is in a way like the message of many traditions and certainly the Gospel, but I don't see the prescription including the power of transcendent revelation to draw us to such a message. Am I missing this?
> * I do not think the article identifies the main problem with the Enlightenment, especially as it has affected religion. I found the article laborious to read, oddly largely sheltered from our ecological crisis, and shallow in its attention to religious institutions in America today.
> * I would be very interested in what others say about its political analysis. The article  could lead to a wonderful discussion. Thanks for sharing it!

On Fri, Feb 3, 2023 at 08:41 David Nelson <> wrote:
I would love to discuss this article with you.  Spiritual Realism in a Divided America by Tim Shriver and Tara Isabella Burton (

David Nelson, D. Min.

The Federal system (Bill of Rights, Article 1) in effect separated church and state because  in 1789/1791 no state had the power to compel the federal government to adopt its chosen state religion, and some states were begun as commercial rather than religious enterprises. "New Hampshire kept its establishment until 1817; Connecticut kept its establishment until 1818; and Massachusetts did not abandon its state support for Congregationalism until 1833." For accurate history, it is important to distinguish state from federal establishment of religion. Later, protections and freedoms of the Federal Bill of Rights were incorporated for the states through the 14th Amendment. I remember learning about this in grade school and how shocked I was because I had assumed freedom of religion had always been a part of the American system.


My brother,

Please excuse me for writing below as I have.  I need to express my feelings to someone, and I know you will understand. I will be brief.

The observance of the Martin Luther King Jr holiday each year always brings up for me so many thoughts and memories. I remember meeting King in a church basement in Washington, DC, the year before he was assassinated. I remember his appearance was delayed quite a while as his team checked the church for threats and dangers. It was a dark time. I remember his brilliant analysis of Vietnam, and particularly its effect on young Black men.

I was a student at the University of Chicago Divinity School when he was assassinated. The next Sunday was Palm Sunday, April 7, and I was to be a guest preacher. I remember struggling to find something uplifting to say, and thankfully, able to rely on King's teachings and his  public ministry in the context of the Christian story. I used a recording of the April 3 "Mountain Top" speech in many sermons in the following months.

I remember studying the writings and speeches of King, with their eloquence and depth. Each year I continue to reread the Letter from the Birmingham Jail, which every year renews me with astonishment. I also especially cherish his last sermon, March 31, at the Washington National Cathedral, a few days before his assassination. And I claim King also as an exemplar of interfaith respect. I don't know if I ever sent you my two-page essay on that subject from 2009, so I attach it in PDF in case you are interested. Like King, you have also been a champion of interfaith understanding as part of the broader inclusion of all kinds of people into the human family, the "Beloved Community."

While your life story, my brother, is different, with very different circumstances and challenges and achievements, I feel so very fortunate to be a friend of yours, one part of which is to know how you were able to give yourself for others after King assassination, with an unexpected turn of events after the Kansas City riot, into the full life of service you had already begun, and continue to live, for this community and beyond.


I once put a new engine in my Triumph Spitfire, a week-long ordeal in the Chgo winter in my unheated garage worthy of Dante's Inferno, so I don't  suggest buying one and installing it yourself to save some money.)

It was very disorienting for me at first not to have a car. But soon thereafter, maybe two weeks of withdrawal, I started saying, Praise God! No license fee, no insurance, no repair bill, no gas and oil, no new battery, no taxes -- and (I had an old car), worse of all now vanished -- no worry about whether the thing would start. I never worry about Mercury going into  retrograde, either.


Habakkuk 3:17-18 "Though . . . Yet": presents us with a realistic way to live without despair.  

Huston Smith often said, "The news of the day is always bad, but the news of eternity is always good."

Functionally, the Christian "Though . . . Yet" parallels the practice of Amor fati. The fact that Nietzsche advocated a similar attitude should not be too surprising when both the glories and horrors of existence are contemplated.


Churches declining

While this article does not mention the Moral Majority, the identification of the political right with political shenanigans certainly strengthened then and thereafter, ultimately turning people, esp Protestants, away from churches, after a now-evaporating heyday. I think the author might well have included this degeneration as a fourth factor.

I'll not repeat my long-standing accusations against the culture of greed on which much of our economic system rests, which undercuts, exploits, violates, blasphemes human relationships, or the fact that religious leaders have failed to restore a rational framework for sacred narrative. Folks like JS Spong, whom I partly admire, have been far more destructive than constructive.

The article mentions the Episcopal Church  I can't speak as if I understand the Episcopal Church nationally, and my local experience is simply too favorable, personal, and limited to project into the future. I do think there is a difference between attendance and vitality, and I certainly experience vitality in the Episcopal Church. I do not see signs much anywhere that an understanding of faith is divine play, along the lines I wrote here: -- and without some such understanding, the New Atheists identified by this article will be increasingly effective.

"Nationally, the Episcopal Church’s membership peaked at 3.44 million members in 1959. It has been declining since the 1960s. 'As of 2019, it had about 1.8 million, the Episcopal News Service reported in 2020. “Membership is down 17.4% over the last 10 years.'"--

"While the trend toward atheism and agnosticism in Europe has been a slow but steady decline, Bullivant said, the increase in Christians dropping the faith didn’t really take off in the U.S. until the early 2000s, and the decline since then has been steep and quick."    A mass exodus from Christianity is underway in America

Beyond Today

I am shocked at the portion of the prayer quoted if it represents the entire prayer's effort at inclusion.

Brahma is not a monotheistic god. Brahma is distinguished from Brahman, a universal god in some contexts. Brahma is part of the trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. But there are so many ways to talk about divinity in what is commonly called "Hinduism" that the portion of the prayer cited seems ignorant and disrespectful and even sectarian. I worry that the intent -- which seems to reach toward universal embrace -- actually includes only those who are monotheists and excludes good people (like Buddhists) who do not believe in any god.

Using Cleaver's prayer as a springboard, the preacher criticizes the statement, "All religions believe in the same God," but for the wrong reasons. I would say the statement, "All religions believe in the same God," is profoundly misleading in several ways, with both nouns and the verb as trouble. What "religion" is is a hotly contested term. "Belief" is a secondary part of most "religions," given salience in the West by certain developments in Christianity. As for God, it is difficult to imagine how Rama or Aphrodite or Yahweh or kami or Olodumare or Allah or Sat could be considered the same deity. Cleaver could have consulted for help in preparing a public prayer.

I don't know that my beloved honorable former mayor, radio commentator, and now Member of Congress would be concerned with the comments from either the Beyond Today preacher or me, but I am embarrassed for him. If I had to pick one book to awaken him from his religious stupor, it would be Stephen Prothero's God Is Not One, Harper, 2010.




the death of my former wife,

Advent is a kind of a pilgrimage through time, made newly poignant by the death two days ago of my former wife, whose long psychiatric illness had her institutionalized for two decades. I am so fortunate to have such good relations with her brother who really managed her care. Her death has long been expected (she was moved to hospice a week ago, but not really alert much long before that), and Ben and I are doing well processing both the gift and turmoil she gave us  years ago. Understanding her gradual psychosis, without blaming myself too much for not seeing it as it developed, makes acknowledging the love I had and still have for her worth a lifetime of celebration. I'm working on an obit here: .

#ChatGPT  -- updated 221231

ChatGPT, a new cutting-edge A.I. chatbot opened for testing last week.--
A new chatbot from OpenAI is inspiring awe, fear, stunts and attempts to circumvent its guardrails.

I asked a friend who has access to ChatGPT to give it the following instruction:
Write an 8- to 10-paragraph essay showing that some religious thinkers, including Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh mystics, regard God as all of reality.

After 20 seconds, this was the result:

Religious mystics from various traditions have often described their experiences of God or ultimate reality as an all-encompassing presence. This belief that God is all of reality is sometimes referred to as monism or pantheism.

In the Christian tradition, some mystics have described God as an infinite, all-pervasive presence. For example, the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart wrote that God is "the one thing that is nearest to us, the one thing that is most within us, the one thing that is most our own." He went on to say that God is "the ground of our being," suggesting that God is the very foundation and essence of all that exists.

Similarly, in the Islamic tradition, certain Sufi mystics have described their experiences of God as an all-encompassing unity. For example, the Sufi mystic Rumi wrote that "all things are flowing from one hidden source," suggesting that everything in the universe is ultimately connected and unified in God.

In the Jewish tradition, some Kabbalistic mystics have also described their experiences of God as an all-encompassing unity. The Kabbalistic concept of Ein Sof, or the infinite, suggests that God is beyond all limitations and boundaries, and is the source and essence of all that exists.

In the Hindu tradition, the concept of Brahman is often described as an all-pervasive, ultimate reality that underlies and pervades all of existence. Some Hindu mystics have described their experiences of Brahman as a state of oneness and unity with the entire universe.

In the Buddhist tradition, the concept of emptiness (Shunyata) is often described as an ultimate reality that is beyond all dualities and limitations. Some Buddhist mystics have described their experiences of emptiness as a state of oneness with all that exists.

In the Sikh tradition, the concept of Waheguru is often described as an ultimate reality that is beyond all dualities and limitations. Some Sikh mystics have described their experiences of Waheguru as a state of unity with all that exists.

Overall, these examples from various religious traditions suggest that some mystics have experienced God or ultimate reality as an all-encompassing, unified presence that pervades and underlies all of existence. These experiences may be seen as pointing to a deeper understanding of the nature of reality and our place within it.

Reminds me of a cartoon of a huge computer. The human put a question to it: "Is there a God?" -- The computer churned for a few seconds, lights flashed, and the printer activated the response: "There is now."

Other than not citing sources, I'd give ChatGPT a passing grade in a Freshman religion class.
Another friend submitted the question three times to see if answers would vary:
Response 1:

Religion has long been a source of spiritual guidance and inspiration for people around the world. While the teachings and beliefs of different religions may vary, many religious mystics view God as the ultimate reality and the source of all being. This belief is shared by mystics from a variety of faith traditions, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism.

In Christianity, the concept of God as the all-encompassing reality is known as pantheism. Pantheism holds that God is not a separate entity from the world, but rather is present in all things and permeates every aspect of the universe. Christian mystics such as Meister Eckhart and St. John of the Cross have spoken of a deep, intuitive understanding of God as the ground of all being and the ultimate reality.

In Islam, the belief in God as the ultimate reality is central to the faith. The Qur'an speaks of God as the creator of the universe and all that exists within it. Muslim mystics, known as Sufis, often speak of God as the "Real" or the "Absolute," and seek to experience a deep, personal connection with God through meditation, prayer, and spiritual practices.

Judaism also holds the belief that God is the ultimate reality and the source of all being. In the Jewish tradition, God is seen as the creator of the universe and all that exists within it. Jewish mystics, known as Kabbalists, seek to understand and connect with the divine through the study of ancient texts and spiritual practices.

In Hinduism, the concept of God as the ultimate reality is known as Brahman. Brahman is seen as the ultimate reality, the source of all being and the ultimate goal of spiritual attainment. Hindu mystics, known as sages, seek to experience the unity of the individual self with the ultimate reality of Brahman through spiritual practices such as meditation and yoga.

Buddhism also teaches that all things are interconnected and ultimately arise from the same source. This source is often referred to as the "Dharma," or the ultimate truth and reality of the universe. Buddhist mystics seek to understand and experience the ultimate reality of the Dharma through spiritual practices such as meditation and mindfulness.

Sikhism also teaches that God is the ultimate reality and the source of all being. In Sikhism, God is seen as the creator and sustainer of the universe, and is believed to be present in all things. Sikh mystics, known as saints, seek to experience a deep, personal connection with God through meditation, prayer, and spiritual practices.

In conclusion, many religious mystics from a variety of faith traditions view God as the ultimate reality and the source of all being. Whether through the Christian concept of pantheism, the Islamic belief in the "Real" or the "Absolute," the Hindu understanding of Brahman, the Buddhist concept of the Dharma, or the Sikh belief in the ultimate reality of God, these mystics seek to understand and connect with the divine in a deeply personal and meaningful way.

Response #2:

Throughout history, many religious thinkers have held the belief that God is all of reality. This belief is held by mystics in a variety of different religions, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism.

In Christianity, the idea that God is all of reality is expressed in the concept of panentheism. Panentheism is the belief that God is present in all things and that all things are contained within God. This belief is held by some Christian mystics, who see God as the ultimate reality and the source of all existence.

In Islam, the concept of tawhid, or the belief in the unity of God, also suggests that God is all of reality. Tawhid is the central tenet of Islam and holds that there is only one God, who is the creator and sustainer of the universe. According to this belief, God is present in all things and everything exists within God.

Judaism also has a tradition of mysticism, known as Kabbalah, which teaches that God is the ultimate reality and the source of all existence. Kabbalah teaches that God is infinite and that all things are contained within God.

In Hinduism, the concept of Brahman is similar to the Christian and Islamic concepts of God as all of reality. Brahman is the ultimate reality and the source of all existence in Hinduism. It is believed to be the supreme being, the creator and sustainer of the universe, and the ultimate goal of spiritual realization.

Buddhism also has a concept of ultimate reality, known as nirvana. Nirvana is a state of perfect peace and enlightenment that is believed to be attained through the practice of meditation and the cultivation of wisdom. Some Buddhist mystics see nirvana as being synonymous with God and believe that it represents the ultimate reality and the source of all existence.

Sikhism also has a concept of ultimate reality, known as Waheguru. Waheguru is the name for God in Sikhism and is believed to be the creator and sustainer of the universe. Some Sikh mystics see Waheguru as being the ultimate reality and the source of all existence.

In conclusion, a number of religious mystics from various traditions regard God as all of reality. These mystics believe that God is the ultimate reality and the source of all existence, and that everything is contained within God. This belief is expressed in the concepts of panentheism in Christianity, tawhid in Islam, Kabbalah in Judaism, Brahman in Hinduism, nirvana in Buddhism, and Waheguru in Sikhism.

Response #3 (with the added  phrase "Provide citation" but it did not):

There are many religious traditions that hold the belief that God is all of reality. This belief is often referred to as monism, and it is held by some Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh mystics.

In Christian mysticism, the belief that God is all of reality is often connected to the idea of theosis, or the belief that humans can become one with God through spiritual transformation. This belief is rooted in the idea that God is not just a being separate from the world, but is instead present in all things and pervades all of reality.

Muslim mystics, known as Sufis, also hold the belief that God is all of reality. They often speak of God as being both transcendent and immanent, meaning that God is both beyond the world and present within it. This belief is reflected in the concept of tawhid, the belief in the unity and oneness of God.

In Jewish mysticism, the belief that God is all of reality is reflected in the concept of Ein Sof, which refers to the infinite and boundless nature of God. Ein Sof is often described as being beyond human understanding, and is believed to be present in all things.

Hindu mystics, known as sages, also hold the belief that God is all of reality. This belief is reflected in the concept of Brahman, which refers to the ultimate reality and the absolute source of all things.

Buddhist mystics, known as bodhisattvas, believe in the concept of emptiness, which holds that all things are interconnected and dependent on one another. This belief is seen as a reflection of the ultimate reality, which is often described as being beyond human understanding.

Sikh mystics, known as Sant Mat, also hold the belief that God is all of reality. This belief is reflected in the concept of Ek Ong Kar, which refers to the belief that God is the one true reality and is present in all things.

In conclusion, many religious mystics from a variety of traditions hold the belief that God is all of reality. This belief is often reflected in their teachings and practices, and is seen as a way to understand the ultimate nature of the universe and our place within it.


SO! Now I know what ChatGPT thinks of me.

Thanks, Paul.

 Not too bad, except for the business about "rather than adhering to a specific doctrine or belief system." Of course I think religion need not be focused on beliefs -- most are not. I like the fundamental evolutionary stages Merlin Donald outlines, which explains why liturgy is so much more fundamental than conceptions.

1. ritual
2. narrative (to contextualize the ritual) = myths = gospels etc
3. cognitive formations, creeds, beliefs

An article I just read uses in part the ritual behavior of animals as a way to explore whether animals can be religious (elephants grieving their dead, a good example, chimp rain dances, etc) .

BTW, I believe my teacher, Eliade, was wrong to think that religion arises from myths rather than rituals.

But I also believe that one's life may be incomplete without participation in a religious community or a particular tradition -- I worry that you can't do it by yourself very well.


The Absolute Vermeer, in a Show More Precious Than Pearls

This blockbuster at the Rijksmuseum, never to be repeated, pares the sphinx of Dutch art to the essence: 28 gemlike paintings.

When he was rediscovered in the mid-19th century, Vermeer seemed to be more than just an overlooked old master. He seemed to have something particular to say to a Europe careening toward modernism — especially in his sharp-to-fuzzy optical tricks and unorthodox cropping that, to viewers then and even more now, make his paintings feel as “true” as a photograph.

That false innocence bewitched more and more in the alienated 20th century, which turned to Vermeer for transparency, order, harmony. (The paintings’ secular subjects made this easier, whatever his Catholic stimuli.) But beauty and calm just aren’t enough to explain the intensity of Vermeeromania today, and I think his appeal now lies somewhere else. It lies, much more, in the paintings’ capacity for deceleration, and how the difference between their tactile reality and obvious construction can only be seen with time.

Be quiet and look at the girl with pursed lips, reading a letter aloud in the half-light. The clouded, motionless view of Delft. The maid directing all her attention to the milk that pours from a humble earthenware jug. Nothing important is happening, and yet that nothing is everything now.

Vermeer has become one of our last defibrillators of absorption and awareness. He matters now precisely for his vindication that we have not wholly decayed into data receptors; that we are still human, and if only we find the right master we can slow down time. What is a masterpiece, in 2023? A thing that returns to you — vitally, commandingly, after this clamorous world of news and notifications seemed to have wiped them out — your powers of concentration.

NEWS STORIES AND COMMENTARY  prediction Jim Jordon scandal sex abuse
when wrestluing coach KC Neighborhoods  221116

“I suspect that there are people here today — and I include myself — who are stalked by sadness, or stalked by cancer, or stalked by anger. We are afraid of the mortality that is knit into our bones. We experience unearned suffering, or give unreturned love, or cry useless tears. And many of us eventually grow weary of ourselves — tired of our own sour company.”

     “Even when strength fails, there is perseverance,”  “And even when perseverance fails, there is hope. And even when hope fails, there is love. And love never fails.”

which remindes me of Romans 5:3-4 : "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope" which leads to love.

Pro-life writer asks why abortions, declining over both GOP and DEM administrations, rose undeer Donald Trump:  Five Readings for Your Thanksgiving Table  Nov. 22, 2022 THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN   Mueller, Jan 6 Ukraine reports  Under Trump, Barr and Durham Made a Mockery of the Rules I Wrote Feb. 14, 2023 By Neal K. Katyal  


AT COMMUNION. 221211.-- I respect various ways worshippers present themselves at the communion rail. Some like to stand and cup their hands to receive the wafer. I prefer to kneel and raise my palms flat to make an altar. I would prefer to drink from the common cup, as I did for the first decade as an Episcopalian, but becaue of COVID, flu, and the current practice at St Paul's, I perfer intiction with me dipping the wafer into the chalice. (At St Mary's, the server takes the wafer from the worshipper, intincts it, and places the wafer on the tongue.)  Some might consider these mere fine points, but as well as the inherent significance, the courtesy and smoothness of the ritual can be, in itself, meaninful and beautiful as, for example, the genuine Japanese tea ceremony, which I have been so luckly to experience. At for remote communion, see this:  Sacred Transmission.

221214.-- Thank you for this video about the Traditional Latin Mass :

First, I want to be explicit that I am not talking about language, Latin (or English, etc) in my response. That is a separate, serious, and complex question.
     I am writing about the priest facing away from the people, as leading the people in the sacrifice of Christ.
     We at St Paul's are required by the architecture of the chapel, which we are using for Vespers during Advent, for the Eucharistic Prayer to be said  "ad orientem" (although the geographical direction is south).  And I am used to this from frequent worship at St Mary's.
     I do believe that the same degree of awe and reverence is possible with the priest facing the people at the altar-table, and I prefer it because honoring both the transcendent and imminent presence of God is for me better than just the vertical (or horizontal) dimension of faith. I do think it is more difficult for the worshipers (including the leaders) to achieve this, but as I pursue my own spiritual path, I find it works. If I were an objective observer, I am sure it would be sometimes less successful, but my role as a worshiper is to make it happen, and not depend just on the priest.

221215.-- Even though a sermon sharing the preacher's own life is properly directed to a particular group of people of a peculiar tradition using sometimes archaic language and strange metaphors in a specific setting on a particular occasion in oral utterance with cadences not on the page, I think enough of this sermon flows well without needing to know all those contextual details to make it worth sharing.

221217.-- The Christian Glory of the Lord, sensed all around us, even in its regal metaphor, parallels the satori of the Buddhist, even in its characterization as utter spareness or transparency; as well as paralleling the awesome and terrirfying challenge when met in the love Krishna proclaims when in the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 11, Visvarupa–Darsana) he appears to Arjuna as the All-Embracing God; and perhaps paralleling some sense that might inhere in Yahweh's answer to Job (Chapter 38) in the whirlwind. Despite utterly different contexts (and the failure to solve the problem of evil on the level the problem arises), these ineffable revelations are what might be called theological therapy.

The Liturgical Virtuoso v. the Liturgical Charismatic.
The participants in worship whose audience is God should be transparent, wholely given to their liturgical roles and actions without inserting their personalities in the divine drama, so far as humanly possible and the expectations and customs of the congregation support. Sacred space and sacred time should be clean, deliberate, considerate, and unhurried. This means that every activity should be completed before another is begun. For example, a lay reader in the nave should not leave one's seat and go to the lecturn while the choir is praying the psalm; also after the procession returns from the nave (where Gospel has been read) to the chancel, the preacher should wait until the processional cross is back in its place before ascending the pulpit; and the preacher should not say "You may be seated" -- after an brief invocation, such as "In the name of the Triune God" then pause while the people take their seats, or if absolutely necessary, by gesture, indicate the congregation may take their seats; the president of the Eucharistic Prayer should pause after the Sanctus so that parishioners who wish to kneel have time to do so before continuing.

Although I have an intense interest in worship (worship and world religions are two subjects that matter a lot to me), I am fascinated by the variety of ways people think about liturgy and their lives, and a discussion particularly about ritual seems critically important in our sometimes too-mental approach to faith, to support a deep comfort with the bodily response to the sacred. In fact, I asked Noland after church how he, as a (to me) young person, understood ritual, and he confirmed my conviction that many young people would welcome an Episcopal approach if they knew about it. I like the sacramental view of Roman Catholic Michael J. Himes: what is always and everywhere true (God's grace) must be noticed, accepted, and celebrated somewhere, sometime, some way. I like Merlin Donald's evolutionary approach to religion, which begins with a unitive experience in Robert Bellah's framing (perhaps animals have these, not just humans). Then before the development of language, it is indicated by mimesis and ritual behavior, then later elaborated verbally in (explanatory) narratives and symbols, and finally in cognitive expressions like catechisms. But the earlier stages are never lost, and can remain the most powerful. So bowing, processing, bells/chimes, eating -- are more likely the gates to the sacred than theological speculation, as immersed in that as I love to be.

'Did You Not Tweet That?': Nancy Mace Confronts Activist With Her Own Controversial Tweets

 A brilliant response to dangerous rhetoric, more often from the right, but too often also on the left, currently. Ad homenims are dangerous and so tempting for us to make. The attack should be on the Court's decision one disagrees with, though criticism of a justice based on corruption is of course an appropriate line of pursuit. Threatening extra-legal violent responses demeans and undercuts any appropriate message.


proposed rule number, 15 CSR 30-200.015

Missouri Secretary of State
The Hon. John R. Ashcroft

Dear Secretary Ashcroft --

I am eighty years old. Since childhood I have cherished libraries and the diversity of ideas and experiences to which they have introduced me. As a father and a clergyman, I have encouraged the God-given gift of curiosity awakened and strengthened through professionally-chosen books and media in schools and public libraries. As an American citizen, I value the freedom to explore the full range of human thought and creativity without limits imposed by individuals and groups with any particular political agenda, and most certainly by governmental officials, most of whom are unqualified and untrained in library science, and whose constrained appreciation of the scope and depth of the human story throughout the ages and as it unfolds today may inhibit their capacities to understand the harm they would inflict on our children, our nation, and civilization.

Missouri’s SB 775 is an embarrassment and a disgrace. It mocks our motto of "show me" with fear and presumption. It demeans the rights of citizens and threatens honest and dedicated librarians, educators, and others. Instead of clear and effective legislation, it invites costly bureaucracy, litigation, and civic disruption, turmoil, and distress.

You have the opportunity to mitigate problems arising from this foolish, misguided, and fanatic response to an imaginary sexual, political, and other threats with the most modest and carefully-considered administrative rule. Please make clear you are protecting American freedoms and the extraordinary value school and public libraries give our people, our economy, and our progress.

The Rev Barnet, DMn
CRES minister emeritus


In reading this long NYT Mag article about the movie and Avatar franchise -- -- I'm reconsidering describing myself from "a member of a strange ancient Middle-eastern cult of a dying and resurrected god, mutated over 2,000 years, called Christianity, and specifically the Episcopal Church" instead to "a loyal participant in an ancient narrative franchise . . . ."

Note that a movie franchise (multiple iterations of a movie, such as Star Wars, James Bond, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter) often involves books, clothing, sometimes food, theme parks, and fan gatherings. The article says, "The most successful franchises share certain principles: an epic plot, on the scale of all mankind, sweeping enough to encompass different stories; a detailed setting, with high specificity, implying a world beyond what gets shown on screen; assorted sects and institutions, providing easy points of fan identification; a set of distinctive totems to merchandise — a scarf, a shield, a mask, a ring." "Today it has been thoroughly demonstrated that superhero and fantasy movies are the best forms of intellectual property for the endless reiteration necessitated by the franchise model."

It is easy to point out parallels with many religions (Christianity, for example, offers many stories within the main narrative, many totems such as the cross, a book, "fan gatherings," superhero, etc). The big difference between a franchise and a religion, at least in America, is that so many people think of religion, at least institutional religion, as involving beliefs instead of story, an unfortunate and perhaps fatal injury from the Enlightenment.

A serious question must be raised, though I word it in brief and poorly: To what extent is a narrative a mere entertainment and when does it become a sacred paradigm or model for moral and insightful living? and when do popular stories, even in a population's unconsciousness, affect environmental, personal, and social (political) decisions?

My KC STAR column on Avatar here:​  and a follow-up:

"As a type of story, myth is a form of verbal art, and belongs to the world of art. Like art, and unlike science, it deals, not with the world that man contemplates, but with the world that man creates. The total form of art, so to speak, is a world whose content is nature but whose form is human; hence when it "imitates" nature it assimilates nature to human forms. The world of art is human in perspective, a world in which the sun continues to rise and set long after science has explained that its rising and setting are illusions. And myth, too, makes a systematic attempt to see nature in human shape: it does not simply roam at large in nature like the folk tale. " --Northrop Frye: "Myth, Fiction, and Displacement" in Daedalus, Summer, 1961, p598.


If you have three and a half minutes, this is a good placement of the "two Wittgensteins":

If you have twelve and a half minutes, you'll get a basic note about each of them, thoug you have to listen a bit more to hear why this challenges the whole tradition of Western philosophy.

Religious language at 21 minutes.

Then the critical point at 25 minutes: Problems arise when we try to apply the way we use words from one "language game" to another, as from science to religion.

Wittgenstein's religious hunger at 36 minutes 45 seconds. The Wikipedia bio shows some of his struggles.

The evaluation near the end is also important. But I strongly disagree with the criticism by Searle. And I am certain that Wittgenstein would disagree as well. Searle is so obviously wrong about having to believe in God in order to pray (you don't have to "believe" in the West Wind when Shelley apostrophises it), it is embarrassing. Otherwise, I think he and Magee are brilliant.

America's Story

To me, the best example of a new narrative is a redemption narrative in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural, which is, this is a beautiful experiment, we have screwed it up in all sorts of ways. There will be divine justice imposed as we try to reckon with how we’ve screwed it up. There’s ultimately a redemption at the end of the story, and we are working toward that redemption together. 

To me, that’s a story that takes into account the voices of those who have been oppressed but points us all in the direction of unity. To me, that’s a realistic story that maybe we can congregate around, but we can’t be a diverse nation without a common story.

--David Brooks

A joy in duty to the world.

I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I woke and saw  hat life was duty.
I acted - and behold - duty was joy.  --Tagore

When I was very young and innocent,
my world was wonderous, often bliss;
my joy at colors, shapes, sounds and touches was endless;
and when exhausted, I slept.
But if forced to end my curious pursuit,
or denied the grasp of what I wanted to touch,
or removed from what I wanted to see and explore,
or the ending of a story or song--
such forced rupture of delight
seemed unjust to my selfish yet blessed ways.
And yes, hunger intimated clear--my body had the clue--
that distress so easily forgot in the satisfaction recurring
meant a helplessness and limitation I now call finitude.

When I learned that death was sure,
a final end to my delight, a forced sleep,
eitheer from the exhaustion of age
which even its wisdom could not renew
or from disease or accident, q merciless cruelty,
a deprivation, a despair --
I learned the terror of death.

When immortality beckons, it shows twin faces;
yet one is false, the other empty.
The false invites to fame, achievement, a monumental impact;
obsessive, neurotic, a store against cosmic hunger,
a plastic table set with plastic food consumed by fire.
Even the Egyptian beauty, immortalizing names,
bring the beings no more into our sphere
than we can enter the sun and survive,
for equally have we vandalized their tombs,
melting meaning into gorgeous beauty,
flares but no immortality.
Even the sun shall die,
but in our trivial scale seems long.
When the second face shows its emptiness, true but breathless,
transparency embraces all; I cannot find myself;
the multiverse is one;
and oh, the tearful joy of consciousness for a time. 
And transparency is home.

When inspection for my soul led to emptiness,
survival was not so much a sham as a silliness:
I am a mere nexus, an ever-changing composite
of relationships, events and material configurations
which seem, in gross vision, to persist awhile,
but are themselves the phantoms and ghosts of immortality,
an impersonal processes, with and without me;
or as the Buddhists say: the skandas are empty.

Yet when the wonderous play of time, so precious, so finite,
slips away, a fragile confection in a toddler's hand,
the perpetual dread of death advises what is sacred,
basic, worth attention;  death is friend;
strangely, the wonder of it all
is found in each particular, in trained pursuit,
a kind of artful naturalness, an unchildish childfulness,
not attached, not detached; a flowing.
A joy in duty to the world.

--found in my files from my Kaypro computer, 1970s-80s?

Your perception of the flawed and evil nature of the world  is in tension with the desire the writer wants to make nicey-nice the evil and ugliness all around us.

Yes. I go to church for beauty, not morality. I know many people think of church as moral instruction. And some think of religion in terms of creed or belief. So I have some sympathy for this silly essay with its definitional somersaults and language prestidigitation.

An example of how silly this essay is: "The aesthetic attitude is then the inclination to seek out the perspective from which the final value of things is apparent."

Well, let's talk " final value ." In Christianity, it is not how beautiful you are or how many Mahler symphonies (or Beethoven piano sonatas) you listen to that determines your place in heaven or hell: it is how good you are, and that is  final. (Some Christians might say your fate is determined by correct belief, but I've never heard an argument that one's life's judgment involves beauty.) Similar comparisons can be made with most other faiths; Hinduism's reincarnation depends not on aesthetics but on your moral behavior and motivations.

Point by point, this essay is foolishly pushing the facts of existence toward an absurd conclusion, defying common sense.

AND YET perhaps he has a glimpse of the mystics vision where categories like good and evil -- and beauty and ugliness -- simply do not apply. Yes, mystics will use terms like "ultimate good" or "total beauty" or "absolute truth" to point to the experience while denying the utility of language to capture the experience.

A suggestion for the author, who seems to have qualms about using "God" as a focal term, is to rewrite the essay employing the term "sacred" instead of "aesthetic." I would remind him that Eliade refused to define "sacred," though his enormous corpus is based on it. My approach to the term is here: . The vision of the whole, which our author appeals to in a paradoxical way, is like the religious understanding of the "sacred" in that when we perceive anything as sacred, it reorients us to the whole of reality, thereby sanctifying even evil as part of the whole, even as we are called to remedy it. (Thus my Lenten series, When Even Evil Will Ordain the Good.)

That point, sort of made by our author in discussing disguising biological processes of nature, which in a larger perspective of ongoing processes can be seen as beautiful, reminds me of the conclusion to Darwin's Origin of Species:  "There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."

I would prefer the term "grandeur" or "sublime" -- or, better, sacred.

To argue that aesthetic value should take priority over moral value betrays common sense which depends on context; with respect to the whole of Reality, the position is a useless confection.


On 2022-11-12 8:52 AM,   wrote:
> For your consideration ...
> "So can we find final value in the world? I believe that we can, so long as we are attuned to aesthetic value. Aesthetic value is a catch-all term that encompasses the beautiful, the ugly, the sublime, the dramatic, the comic, the cute, the kitsch, the uncanny, and many other related concepts. It is a well-worn cliché that the practical person scorns aesthetic value. But there’s reason to think that it is the only way in which we can draw final positive value from the entire world. Thus, to the extent that we care whether or not we live in a good world, we must be aesthetically sensitive."
Why aesthetic value should take priority over moral value | Aeon Essays

On 2022-12-07 8:31 PM, Elizabeth Brown wrote:
    Hi, I am Elizabeth Brown I would like to be your friend. It takes two to TANGLE and make a trail of friendship. I would have to know more about you and i am sending a picture of my self to you already. I would love to receive an email from you, telling me more about yourself and some photos of you as well. I am HONEST and PASSIONATE, NICE and FAITHFUL as well. Love  hearing from you. We can then pursue this further on through email:

Hi, Elizabeth Brown --
     Thanks, but I'm 96 years old, gay, very nasty, criminal record (recently released for heinous crimes), quite ugly, with a bag hanging (actually, dripping) out of my gut. I weight 635 pounds and I can lift a slice of an 8" pizza with one hand. I am sure you are eager to spend some quality time with me, but I have so many young lads and lasses after me as it is, it would be hard to fit you in. Sorry I can't really seeing us becoming friends -- unless you have lots of money. Then I might find a place for you in my frantic social life here at the senior center. Don't send me another photo, send me a six-figure cashier's check and you'll find out how easily I can fall in love. 

Below is a link to the 2022 Nov 6 Sunday 60 minutes. The first story is one of the most important they have ever done, in my opinion, about the destruction of society through the feeding of anger (and politics and education) because of social media -- Facebook, Twitter, etc -- I would add because of the impulse and value of capitalism, greed over service, power over community.


I promised to send John Tavener's setting of Blake's "The Lamb." Many composers have used Blake's poem, but none like Tavener. Blake's poem is stupendous in its ironic simplicity. In the Songs of Innocence, its answer in the Songs of Experience, is "The Tyger."

I like this performance because the boys mastered the difficulty of singing dissonance so well.

Another performance by an adult choir:

Another performance by an adult choir with stronger bass:
If you are interested in music theory:



Leroy, as always, thanks for a provocative entry. I think "both" Wittgensteins are important, the one of the Tractatus, which expected a correspondence between careful language and the world, and the one of the Investigations (your citation is page 194 in my German-English edition) which explores how language is actually used (and at the very outset corrects one of Augustine's many mistakes). It is hard to think of a technical philosopher of the first half of the 20th Century who is more important or more influential.

As for your larger point: Agreed: religion in not in facticity but in perspective. A famous debate on this point begins with John Wisdom's "Parable of the Unseen Gardener," with participants including Antony Flew, R  M Hare, Basil Mitchell, and I M Crombie, in the wake of Wittgenstein.

Lynda Sexson, in Ordinarily Sacred, 1982, says: "Religion . . . is the consecration of experience, or person, so that the person, or experience, us made whole (holy)." [p9] And she rightly notes that many--I would say most--cultures do not have an equivalent for the term. Religion is in fact a Western invention, a product of dualistic thinking, and as we understand it, is is particularly a product of the Protestant Reformation, as scholars like Talal Asad, Edward Said, and Tomoko Masuzawa. Sexson continues, religion "does not refer to a specialized category, but to the way that all reality is perceived and integrated." [p13]

I think the affliction of religion-blindness is an artifact of Western dualistic religion.

Images like the beauty-hag and duck-rabbit are useful reminders of why William Blake protested the Enlightenment's notion that the "object" is separate from the "subject" (my shorthand way of summarizing Blake), a protest fulfilled in part by Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962, and works by other such thinkers. I use the famous Rubin faces-goblet illustration in my book, Thanks for Noticing [p31].

My religious studies ancestors--


This is real Anglican Chant, after the organ introduction, Sunday evening Evensong.  This is a bit hypnotic, maybe, but you can still discern different numbers of syllables to the same notes in  the repetition, which makes Anglican Chant different from both a hymn and a Gregorian Chant.

This is a spoof on Anglican Chant: "The Weather Report"

Here's another spoof, with technical chant pointing in the text on the screen: Rules of Cricket --

Here is a 6-minute explanation on how Anglican Chant works:

A 14-minute explanation:

Another tutotial with an answe to Why near the end

Hi Jim. I don't visit, seldom go anywhere except by foot. And when I die, that's it. Poof. I'm a Christian, a heretic Episcopalian with a HuaYen Buddhist theology, because in this culture no tradition in my opinion better acknowledges the irreconcilable horror and glory of existence through beautiful ritual, myth, and community. In that context, even saying the troublesome creed, with Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief," is extraordinarily meaningful.

My opinion: Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was a nasty man.

Bernard was a great organizer and monastic reformer as well as a brilliant writer. Under his leadership, his Cistercian Order from its Benedictine origins spread from Citeaux to 170 other placements. I had had a favorable opinion of Bernard because of his "mystical" commentary on the Song of Solomon (see Sonnet 16 in my book, p66; Sonnet 48 p98; Sonnet 105, p155; Sonnet 116, p166
*; Sonnet 152, p202*), but reading some history changed my mind.
*In these two instances, I somehow was thinking of Peter DeVeau and got the spelling of Claivaux wrong, which are examples of wanting to get the book cleaned up in my revision.

Controversial in his own time, Bernard  hated the "new" independent scholarship of his time. He helped form the Knights Templer and thus perpetuated the idea of the Christian soldier. He was, at least on occasion, an anti-Semite (“It is a disgrace for Christ that a Jew sits on the throne of St. Peter’s"), promoted the 2d Crusade more vigorously than anyone (his sermon at Vezelay effectively launched that fiasco which indeed led to attacks on Jews), approved of genocide of the Wends; and instead of trying to understand the Cathars, denounced them. He was underhanded, vicious, cruel to Abelard (Cluny took Abelard in). While Bernard had some tight friendships and knew how to maneuver and advance politically, he could also be mean. I think of him as a nasty man.

He is a central figure of the first half of 12th Century in Europe, and his work effectively led to advances in many of the arts of civilization, including finance. He is widely honored; and my own church, the Episcopalian, celebrates his feast day.

The Year 2022 (actually 2021 Dec 27 - 2022 March sometime)

Thank the god Hermes, or Silicon Valley folks, for back-ups. Following the extinction of my beloved XP computer (serving me well since 2006), I began to migrate to Windows10, then that computer burnt out in a storm (despite being on battery/surge protection).

So I am again migrating and organizing backup stuff to a third machine and downloading and installing and customizing programs (including Thunderbird, Chrome, Gimp, IrfanView, vDOS, a dBASE that works differently on Win10, a different version of MS Publisher, KompoZer, Filezilla FTP, Zoom, Camera software, OCR, three printer and scan drivers, VLC Media Player, backup, etc, . . .  and I'm still working though this list. Why do they make new versions more complicated than the old ones? (One step in Netscape Composer, for example, takes three in KompoZer, and a search in Windows10 requires a masters degree). I have enhancements yet to be reconnected (Bluetooth, Hauppaugue TV Tuner, etc. At some point I need to do some local office networking.

I had some help the first round, but for this second round I am magaging so far without help (except for a call to TurnKey Internet to get the local connected to the remote server), and I've been able to maintain my wedding database and the CRES website with little delay. 
Emails remain a backed-up and spam a severe problem.

What god can help with that?


The Vern Barnet you met last year is in some ways now not the same person. My energy and abilities are noticeably diminished. The many months since I enthusiastically accepted your welcome invitation to contribute to the work of St Paul's by organizing some of the stray Godly Play units have been filled with unexpected problems, health and otherwise, some of which I am still struggling through, and I have been unable to gauge the severity and duration of an avalanche of what separately are relatively minor problems. Yesterday was the last day of my 80th year, a troublesome year in my otherwise happy life. My virtual contact with St Paul's has been a great blessing throughout this time. Your "Good Shepherd" sermon was a particularly meaningful to me.

It is difficult to acknowledge my failure to keep a commitment; I am embarrassed as this is not like the me I have been. Accepting new limits on what I want to do and letting others know those limits is a hard disciple. I apologize for the delay -- which, especially by my failing to communicate as I dithered between desire to help with the project and the berm of my abilities, is itself a failure.

Because I remain uncertain and conflicted about my capacity to complete even this simple project, I propose to assess the situation on Tuesday next and let you know if I can complete it, or offer a status report. In any event, I will not be able to attend the Godly Play training, alas.


In the 2008 Heller decision, the Supremes (5-4) let their obvious political opinion shape the Second Amendment by finding an individual right to keep and bear arms despite the actual text of the Second Amendment. It is ironic that the Supremes found in the Constitution an “inherent right of self-defense” then as it now appears the Supremes will rule that a woman may not be able to control her own body and the right of privacy is also undermined. All of this stems from another 5-4 decision, namely Bush v Gore in 2000, which prepared the way for the folly of Iraq and Afghanistan, the worsening climate crisis, rampant gerrymandering, the evisceration of voting rights, the overturning of campaign finance regulations (Citizens United, 2010), and this week’s grieving parents, joined by so many others in the nation’s unnecessary epidemic of gun violence.

TO: Dan Whisker about his (2013) The Possibility of Shamanism: A Genealogyof Anthropological Appropriations, History and Anthropology, 24:3, 344-362, DOI:10.1080/ 02757206.2013.761982  To link to this article: ht t p: / / 10.1080/ 02757206.2013.761982

I studied with Eliade in the late '60s. He was my neighbor and came to my wedding. In all the years since, I have continued to sort what I find useful from what I find romantic in his thought. Papers like yours, with significant scholarly perspective, help me place him in the developing study of "religion" and related disciplines. My personal acquaintance with Harner's approach seemed to me a misappropriation, though an understandable experiment in our time of diverse attempts to escape "the terror of history." With one foot in the practice of ministry (mostly in the field of interfaith relations) and the other in the academy (struggling to stay acquainted with scholarship), your paper provides helpful context for the phenomena of various neo-Shamanisms. Thank you. --Vern Barnet, CRES, Kansas City, MO

It is difficult to summarize my practical experience in interfaith dialog in the past 40 years, with so many twists and turns and historical developments and contexts. Fostering interfaith dialog as a seminary professor leading his students in practice in how to plan an interfaith conference for Muslims and Christians is very different from writing weekly columns in the paper after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and pointing out how indebted Kansas City is to Muhammad (pbuh) in so many ways, such as, through the development and transmission of Islamic architecture, one of the symbols of Kansas City: Giralda Tower on the County Club Plaza, and so many other ways, one-on-one, and in seminars for lay people, developing relationships at all levels, and so forth.  What some Muslim groups in town have done (for example the Turkish Dialogue Group, which has been exemplary in building political and educational ties) may not be appropriate for other Muslim groups, who emphasize social service efforts. I wish Muslim groups here would coordinate their work, pool their resources, and sponsor Islamic events at institutions like the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and endow a chair of Islamic Studies at UMKC. Becoming ever more visible in such ways in the community is an indirect but critically important way of generating interfaith understanding.

I think I previously sent you a link to the basic caveats I think are important for scholarly understanding of interfaith work, along with  my recommendation of InterActive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook.
No Muslim to my knowledge is more skillful in fostering interfaith understanding than Sister Mahnaz Shabbir. I hope you are taking advantage of her years of experience here. So many others, like the Crescent Peace Society, have wisdom upon which you can draw for understanding of the local configurations. I remain inspired by the early work of Brother Ahmed El-Sherif and appalled by the suffering he has endured for the cause of justice and understanding.

4. I still say all the searching after gurus etc is beside the point, at least for many of us in this culture. As the Bodhisattva model you mention must give up all desires for wealth, power, reputation, pleasure . . . to be enlightened, s/he must also give up the very desire to be enlightened. You can't be here now if you are hankering after somewhere else. Enlightenment is knowing there is no enlightenment. And helping relieve the suffering of others.

Optimism is a political act. Those who benefit from the status quo are perfectly happy for us to think nothing is going to get any better. In fact, these days, cynicism is obedience. —Alex Steffen

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Forgive me for repeating:  this is fundamentally a religious problem, sketched here in green in the 1980s, with the wisdom from the primal religions summarized this way: "NATURE is to be respected more than controlled; it is a process which includes us, not a product external to us to be used or disposed of. Our proper attitude toward nature is awe, not utility."

But ecological disaster is only one dimension of the approaching horrors of secularism, and the economic lust for growth (see the insane interstate hiway system as a prime example, being expanded again in Johnson County) is woven into the crises of the person and of the social contract. The market disruptions in the supply of oil (please indulge the repetition) just now because of the war show how we have bought the devil's elixir of doom.

Religious leaders have failed utterly to address the crises of secularism. Just as Putin's favors to the Russian Orthodox Church have corrupted it, so the promise of Amazon delivery and cable entertainment have corrupted clergy and laity throughout this nation and much of the world.


Feb. 27, 2022 2pm
Putin must commit suicide, be disabled (perhaps by his inner circle), or accept some settement with Ukraine (if Ukraine offers somehing like an agreement not to join NATO). His placing his nuclear forces on high alert suggests he is unhinged from COVID isolation, and those who say he would not use nuclear forces are those who said he was bluffing in amassing his conventional forces around UKraine.

220226 Dear Judith--

I cannot imagine a more dedicated and faithful and wise religious educator anywhere than you. You have served children, teachers, their parents, other members of the church, and the congregation at large, as well as colleagues, with your understanding and skills. You have affected many lives for the better, and instilled a love of the Unitarian Universalist heritage and approach, valuing each person's own gifts and path.

You have as well enriched my life with your understanding, insight, and care.

It is a bitter-sweet moment for me as a colleague to acknowledge your retirement from All Souls as I salute your distinguished career and offer my best wishes for your unfolding future with loved ones and on new paths.

With admiration and affection,

The Rev Vern Barnet, DMn
CRES minister emeritus


After reading that book on medieval history, and with what little knowledge I have about modern history, this seems to ring true to me. I think, given a different place in history, Confucius /Mencius would agree except for the idea that humans are born evil. The importance of behaviors regulated by means other than the law -- courtesy, etiquette, etc -- has been much neglected by both liberals and conservatives, in my opinion, as the litigious and bureaucratic nature of our age suggests.  I also think Brooks is correct in leveling some blame against some religious leaders.

The Dark Century
Feb. 17, 2022
 David Brooks
By David Brooks

Opinion Columnist

In the early 1990s I was a roving correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, based in Europe. Some years it felt as if all I did was cover good news: the end of the Soviet Union, Ukrainians voting for independence, German reunification, the spread of democracy across Eastern Europe, Mandela coming out of prison and the end of apartheid, the Oslo peace process that seemed to bring stability to the Middle East.

I obsess about those years now. I obsess about them because the good times did not last. History is reverting toward barbarism. We have an authoritarian strongman in Russia threatening to invade his neighbor, an increasingly authoritarian China waging genocide on its people and threatening Taiwan, cyberattacks undermining the world order, democracy in retreat worldwide, thuggish populists across the West undermining nations from within.

What the hell happened? Why were the hopes of the 1990s not realized? What is the key factor that has made the 21st century so dark, regressive and dangerous?

The normal thing to say is that the liberal world order is in crisis. But just saying that doesn’t explain why. Why are people rejecting liberalism? What weakness in liberalism are its enemies exploiting? What is at the root of this dark century? Let me offer one explanation.

Liberalism is a way of life built on respect for the dignity of each individual. A liberal order, John Stuart Mill suggested, is one in which people are free to conduct “experiments in living” so you wind up with “a large variety in types of character.” There’s no one best way to live, so liberals celebrate freedom, personal growth and diversity.

Many of America’s founders were fervent believers in liberal democracy — up to a point. They had a profound respect for individual virtue, but also individual frailty. Samuel Adams said, “Ambitions and lust for power … are predominant passions in the breasts of most men.” Patrick Henry admitted to feelings of dread when he contemplated the “depravity of human nature.” One delegate to the constitutional convention said that the people “lack information and are constantly liable to be misled.”

Our founders were aware that majorities are easily led by ambitious demagogues.

So our founders built a system that respected popular opinion and majority rule while trying to build guardrails to check popular passion and prejudice. The crimes of the constitutional order are by now well known. It acquiesced to the existence of slavery and prolonged that institution for nearly another century. Early democratic systems enfranchised only a small share of adult Americans. But the genius of the Constitution was in its attempt to move toward democracy while trying to prevent undue concentrations of power. The founders divided power among the branches. They built in a whole series of republican checks, so that demagogues and populist crazes would not sweep over the land.

“They designed a constitution for fallen people,” the historian Robert Tracy McKenzie writes in his book “We the Fallen People.” “Its genius lay in how it held in tension two seemingly incompatible beliefs: first, that the majority must generally prevail; and second, that the majority is predisposed to seek personal advantage above the common good.”

While the Constitution guarded against abuses of power, the founders recognized that a much more important set of civic practices would mold people to be capable of being self-governing citizens: Churches were meant to teach virtue; leaders were to receive classical education, so they might understand human virtue and vice and the fragility of democracy; everyday citizens were to lead their lives as yeoman farmers so they might learn to live simply and work hard; civic associations and local government were to instill the habits of public service; patriotic rituals were observed to instill shared love of country; newspapers and magazines were there (more in theory than in fact) to create a well-informed citizenry; etiquette rules and democratic manners were adopted to encourage social equality and mutual respect.
Think of it like farming. Planting the seeds is like establishing a democracy. But for democracy to function you have to till and fertilize the soil, erect fences, pull up weeds, prune the early growth. The founders knew that democracy is not natural. It takes a lot of cultivation to make democracy work.

American foreign policy had a second founding after World War II. For much of our history Americans were content to prosper behind the safety of the oceans. But after having been dragged into two world wars, a generation of Americans realized the old attitude wasn’t working any more and America, following the leadership of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, would have to help build a liberal world order if it was to remain secure.

The postwar generation was a bit like the founding generation. Its leaders — from Truman to George F. Kennan to Reinhold Niebuhr — championed democracy, but they had no illusions about the depravity of human beings. They’d read their history and understood that stretching back thousands of years, war, authoritarianism, exploitation, great powers crushing little ones — these were just the natural state of human societies.

If America was to be secure, Americans would have to plant the seeds of democracy, but also do all the work of cultivation so those seeds could flourish. Americans oversaw the creation of peaceful democracies from the ruins of military dictatorships in Germany and Japan. They funded the Marshall Plan. They helped build multinational institutions like NATO, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund. American military might stood ready to push back against the wolves who threatened the world order — sometimes effectively, as in Europe, but oftentimes, as in Vietnam and Iraq, recklessly and self-destructively. America championed democracy and human rights, at least when the Communists were violating them (not so much when our dictator allies across, say, Latin America were).

Just as America’s founders understood that democracy is not natural, the postwar generation understood that peace is not natural — it has to be tended and cultivated from the frailties of human passion and greed.

Over the past few generations that hopeful but sober view of human nature has faded. What’s been called the Culture of Narcissism took hold, with the view that human beings should be unshackled from restraint. You can trust yourself to be unselfish! Democracy and world peace were taken for granted. As Robert Kagan put it in his book “The Jungle Grows Back”: “We have lived so long inside the bubble of the liberal order that we can imagine no other kind of world. We think it is natural and normal, even inevitable.”

If people are naturally good, we no longer have to do the hard agricultural work of cultivating virtuous citizens or fighting against human frailty. The Western advisers I covered in Russia in the early 1990s thought a lot about privatization and market reforms and very little about how to prevent greedy monsters from stealing the whole country. They had a naïve view of human nature.

Even in America, over the past decades, the institutions that earlier generations thought were essential to molding a democratic citizenry have withered or malfunctioned. Many churches and media outlets have gone partisan. Civics education has receded. Neighborhood organizations have shrunk. Patriotic rituals are out of fashion.

What happens when you don’t tend the seedbeds of democracy? Chaos? War? No, you return to normal. The 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were normal. Big countries like China, Russia and Turkey are ruled by fierce leaders with massive power. That’s normal. Small aristocracies in many nations hog gigantic shares of their nations’ wealth. That’s normal. Many people come to despise cultural outsiders, like immigrants. Normal. Global affairs resembles the law of the jungle, with big countries threatening small ones. This is the way it’s been for most of human history.

In normal times, people crave order and leaders like Vladimir Putin arise to give it to them. Putin and Xi Jinping have arisen to be the 21st century’s paradigmatic men.

Putin has established political order in Russia by reviving the Russian strong state tradition and by concentrating power in the hands of one man. He has established economic order through a grand bargain with oligarch-led firms, with him as the ultimate C.E.O. As Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy write in their book, “Mr. Putin,” corruption is the glue that holds the system together. Everybody’s wealth is deliberately tainted, so Putin has the power to accuse anyone of corruption and remove anyone at any time.

He offers cultural order. He embraces the Russian Orthodox Church and rails against the postmodern godlessness of the West. He scorns homosexuality and transgenderism.

Putin has redefined global conservatism and made himself its global leader. Many conservatives around the world see Putin’s strong, manly authority, his defense of traditional values and his enthusiastic embrace of orthodox faith, and they see their aspirations in human form. Right-wing leaders from Donald Trump in the United States to Marine Le Pen in France to Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines speak of Putin admiringly.

The 21st century has become a dark century because the seedbeds of democracy have been neglected and normal historical authoritarianism is on the march. Putin and Xi seem confident that the winds of history are at their back. Writing in The Times a few weeks ago, Hill said that Putin believes the United States is in the same predicament Russia was in during the 1990s — “weakened at home and in retreat abroad.”

Putin, Xi and the other global conservatives make comprehensive critiques of liberalism and the failings of liberal society. Unlike past authoritarians they have the massive power of modern surveillance technology to control their citizens. Russian troops are on the border of Ukraine because Putin needs to create the kind of disordered world that people like him thrive in. “The problem Russia has faced since the end of the Cold War is that the greatness Putin and many Russians seek cannot be achieved in a world that is secure and stable,” Kagan writes in “The Jungle Grows Back.” “To achieve greatness on the world stage, Russia must bring the world back to a past when neither Russians nor anyone else enjoyed security.”

Will the liberals of the world be able to hold off the wolves? Strengthen democracy and preserve the rules-based world order? The events of the past few weeks have been fortifying. Joe Biden and the other world leaders have done an impressive job of rallying their collective resolve and pushing to keep Putin within his borders. But the problems of democracy and the liberal order can’t be solved from the top down. Today, across left and right, millions of Americans see U.S. efforts abroad as little more than imperialism, “endless wars” and domination. They don’t believe in the postwar project and refuse to provide popular support for it.

The real problem is in the seedbeds of democracy, the institutions that are supposed to mold a citizenry and make us qualified to practice democracy. To restore those seedbeds, we first have to relearn the wisdom of the founders: We are not as virtuous as we think we are. Americans are no better than anyone else. Democracy is not natural; it is an artificial accomplishment that takes enormous work.

Then we need to fortify the institutions that are supposed to teach the democratic skills: how to weigh evidence and commit to truth; how to correct for your own partisan blinders and learn to doubt your own opinions; how to respect people you disagree with; how to avoid catastrophism, conspiracy and apocalyptic thinking; how to avoid supporting demagogues; how to craft complex compromises.

Democrats are not born; they are made. If the 21st century is to get brighter as it goes along, we have to get a lot better at making them. We don’t only have to worry about the people tearing down democracy. We have to worry about who is building it up.

Our Comedy of Errors?
By WILLIAM SCHWEIKER February 10, 2022
William Schweiker (PhD’85), is the Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

"All you earnest young men out to save the world... Please, have a laugh." -- Reinhold Niebuhr
Other Peoples' Myths, Wendy Doniger, p8-9

One day a hunter wandered in the woods until he came to the home of a sage, who became his teacher. The sage told him this story:

    In the old days, I became an ascetic sage and lived alone in a hermitage. I studied magic. I entered someone else’s body and saw all his organs; I entered his head and then I saw a universe, with a sun and an ocean and mountains, and gods and demons and human beings. This universe was his dream, and I saw his dream. Inside his head, I saw his city and his wife and his servants and his son.

    When darkness fell, he went to bed and slept, and I slept too. Then his world was overwhelmed by a flood at doomsday; I, too, was swept away in the flood, and though I managed to obtain a foothold on a rock, a great wave knocked me into the water again. When I saw that world destroyed at doomsday, I wept. I still saw, in my own dream, a whole universe, for I had picked up his karmic memories along with his dream. I had become involved in that world and I forgot my former life; I thought, “This is my father, my mother, my village, my house, my family.”

    Once again I saw doomsday. This time, however, even while I was being burnt up by the flames, I did not suffer, for I realized, “This is a just a dream.” Then I forgot my own experiences. Time passed. A sage came to my house, and slept and ate, and as we were talking after dinner he said, “Don’t you know that all of this is a dream? I am a man in your dream, and you are a man in someone else’s dream.”

    Then I awakened, and remembered my own nature; I remembered that I was an ascetic. And I said to him, “I will go to that body of mine (that was an ascetic),” for I wanted to see my own body as well as the body which I had set out to explore. But he smiled and said, “Where do you think those two bodies of yours are?” I could find no body, nor could I get out of the head of the person I had entered, and so I asked him, “Well, where are the two bodies?”

    The sage replied, “While you were in the other person’s body, a great fire arose, that destroyed your body as well as the body of the other person. Now you are a householder, not an ascetic.” When the sage said this, I was amazed. He lay back.on his bed in silence in the night, and I did not let him go away; he stayed with me until he died.

The hunter said, “If this is so, then you and I and all of us are people in one another’s dreams.” The sage continued to teach the hunter and told him what would happen to him in the future. But the hunter left him and went on to new rebirths. Finally, the hunter became an ascetic and found release.

I response to Leroy Seat's blog:

1. Preparatory grief for the end of the world is appropriate. (I have a story about how I came to this during the Reagan years.)

2. Forestalling the day of doom is a duty, doing the right thing, regardless of the fruit of the act.

3. For me, that duty involves calling others to the sacred (what our lives depend on) as revealed in the three families of faith to address the crises in the environment, in personhood, and in the social compact -- and how these are interrelated.

4. The folly of the private automobile violates the sacred in all three of these domains, and the half-billion-dollar expansion of the highway system planned in Johnson County is a typical example of hastening doom. (Remarks about oil:

5. The politics and economy of the world is so intertwined with the private automobile as a necessity for many populations, it has become a key indicator (one of a number) of our approaching collapse.

When he was President of the University of Chicago, Edward Levi was repeatedly congratulated on the University’s sponsorship of the nuclear testing initiative that supported the Manhattan Project.  Levi’s response: “Thank you, but any University presented the opportunity would have done that.  I’m proud of the fact that our Press has committed to the Hittite dictionary.”

I’m not comparing the Sacklers to the owners of sports teams, but, like so much of society, the promotion of addictive attention and behavior distracts us from seeing clearly. This addiction is engendered in part because we identify our teams with *us* — it is the *Kansas City* Chiefs we root for. I eschew professional football, but even I needed to check in from time to time Sunday to see who was ahead. Yes, I know football can be considered an art form, and even a religious drama, but so were the dramas in the Roman Colosseum. The sports-media-financial-civic complex is a danger to us as individuals and as a community. NFL owners have devised a very successful product placement strategy whereby an enetire city establishment becomes their promotion for profit, and citizens think they are the winners.

Computer mess


I especially enjoyed teaching Immanuel Kant’s “Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.” One of his categorical imperatives proposes an ultimate ethical obligation, to “act only according to that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” That is not, mind you, the old Golden Rule, because “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” could mean that you decide to be lazy and be OK with other people being lazy as well. This fails under the categorical imperative because it would be a poor universal law — a society of layabouts would be a hungry and threadbare one.

However, the categorical imperative leaks when you try to apply it to, say, suicide (Is it wrong because we wouldn’t want all people to do it?) and lying (Is a lie intended to avert catastrophe inherently wrong?). What we ultimately get from Kant is how elusive any truly universal principle is, especially if we consider that different peoples worldwide might have differing perspectives on such matters.


First point: journalism is an honrable profession and journalists and their families should never be thratened or endangered because of their work. Journalism in a free society is given the high protection of the First Amendment.


Misleading headlines, some that seem purposely so as bait, some simply incompetently composed

News articles that are written like features, making the reader wade through four paragraphs before finding what the article is really about or whatis important (the abandonement of the reverse pyramid structure)

Political stories that fail to note the party affiliation of the persons named until later in the story

Identify lies as lies and disputes as disputes when reporting stories that include them as part of presenting the spectrum of views.

News should be reported by accuracy, clarity, fairness, nonpartisanship, accountability (including by-lines and email addresses), and promptness.

News reporters,as part of the Fourth Estate, give up certain rights ordinary citizens have to participate in political and certain other causes, particularly related to their "beat" if such particpation could raise any question of bias in reporting. Clergyman are expected to refrain from repeating confidences and have certain prrotections from compulsion to reveal them. Lawyers may exercise their powers only with good behavior. Expectations for journalists to be uncompromised by associations or speech are reasonable as well.

Why do reporters have to fanccy their reports by saying things like 'multiple" instead of "many"?


Too much interviewing of ordinary individuals, even representative people, instead of braod and in depth analysis

inadequate political coverage, even on PBS, which uses urts time for too often for too many low-imoact stories.

Identify lies as lies.


I don't know if violent sports, affecting what happens after the event, are more of a "release valve" or an incitement to violence. I do think sports teams like NFL distort the meaning of civilization. Yes, I know some say there is an esthetic to football, but I think diving, gymnastics, even baseball and tennis are more beautiful. I've been active all my life but I don't favor sports of aggression.

I would prefer a focus on city neighborhoods over over focusing energy on a national reputation for having a major NFL team. I understand we are down 400 officers in staffing our police department. BTW, I am sorry I sent that article about the murder in the World Market parking lot the other day with the stupid remarks by our mayor. I should have noted there have been 0 incidents during the street closings in the years they have been in effect. The murderer went into 0 Westport establishments that night-early morning.

As for the economics: As a U of Chgo alum, I am happy to read: "As University of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson memorably put it, "If you want to inject money into the local economy, it would be better to drop it from a helicopter than invest it in a new ballpark."




. . . than listening to Mahler's Third itself, which is basically Mac 'n' Cheese gussied up in an Dime Store array of colored glass serving dishes on an endless kitchen counter in a foreclosed Santa Barbara mansion presently occupied by boys expelled from a frat house at one of the Claremont Colleges up the road. De gustibus non disputandum. The talk does confirm my long-held complaint that the Mahler malady was most powerfully insinuated by one of my own beloveds, Lennie B, for which I have not yet forgiven him. Even saints have their sins


Gents, it is passages like these below that cause me to re-evaluate the scholastic tradition as a forerunner of the Enlightenment Project which has a mania about putting things in categories. I see what Peter Lombard initiated in a new light (though still I admire him for several things), and I'm sorry to say (but P. will be delighted) that this arises not so much I think from Plato but rather Aristotle

Historically, /The Sentences /shaped the development of theology more than the Bible. If the Bible had been given greater weight, its narratives would have perhaps led more to metaphorical, rather than categorical and logical thinking about the Mystery. Of course Lombard was influenced by Abelard (an Aristotelian giving lip service to Plato), but I'm not ready to assess how much blame he deserves. Any of you have an opinion? And I may change mine!

I'm *bolding* what I am focusing on here.

In the meantime, thank God for the Cathedrals and art and glorious music which sustained the faithful better than the "straw" of Aquinas to which P. referred.

pages 15-16
From the late fourteenth century onwards, a covert form of rebellion preceded the Reformation in the form of the /devotio modema./ This  was a move of piety inward, disputing the necessity, if not the efficacy, of the outward and visible sacraments. By no means a repudiation of  the sacraments, it was an appeal to what seemed a more immediate  reality of inward encounter with the risen Lord. Although not necessarily a precursor of the Reformation, the /devotio moderna/ had many  characteristics in common with movements that surfaced in the sixteenth century.

Increasingly, the sacraments had been the subject of intellectual  debate. Some of this was necessitated by the proliferation of miraculous stories of bleeding hosts, kneeling donkeys, and Jews converted   by the consecrated hosts. For the first eight hundred years, there had been no systematic treatise on what believers experienced in the eucharist. For nearly twelve hundred years, there had been no consensus even on how many sacraments there were. Augustine had  mentioned several dozen. But this freedom had come to an end in the  thirteenth century with*the scholastic urge to define things. A major impetus came through what became the standard theological textbook, **/The Sentences, /**written about 1150 by Peter Lombard*, briefly  bishop of Paris. Lombard tells us that “the sacraments of the new law  . . . are: baptism, confirmation, the bread of blessing, that is, the  eucharist, penance, extreme unction, orders, marriage.“ Yet as late as 1179, the Third Lateran Council mentioned “enthronement of ecclesiastical persons or the institution of priests, . . . burying the dead” as  sacraments."

This freedom of interpretation was ended by the later scholastics. The seven that Lombard enumerated became definitive, and the  Catholic Council of Trent said no “more, or less, than seven.” Lombard had said that extreme unction “is said to have been instituted by  the apostles” (James 5). A momentous shift occurred in the thirteenth-century agreement that all seven were instituted by God. Thomas  Aquinas tells us that “since, therefore, the power of the sacraments is from God alone, it follows that God alone can institute the sacraments.” This statement was taken with utmost seriousness by the  Protestant Reformers. The freedom that had prevailed for three-fifths  of church history to speak of a wide range of activities as sacraments  and not have to base them on institution by God had ended in the  thirteenth century. Augustine could call the ashes of Ash Wednesday a  sacrament; by the thirteenth century one could not.

[This is a technical discussion I retain but follows earlier exposition.] And the scholastics, in trying to fit all seven sacraments into a procrustean bed of form (words), matter (physical elements), and minister had imposed on them definitions which were not intrinsic to them. . . . .

 A more serious problem lies in the fact that abstract theology now  shapes experience rather than vice versa. It may be optimistic to say  that in earlier periods the experience of the divine in the sacraments  had shaped reflection upon them. But the scholastics, in their rational  probing into the effects of grace in each sacrament, reversed the equation that praying shapes believing.[In Latin: /Lex orandi, lex credendi/ -- which is exactly the way I would describe my experience with the Eucharist almost every Sunday, a profound deepening of my understanding of the divine, myself, and the world., mostly in ways that language cannot easily express.] Very likely this shift never happened in the East, which to this day has refused to define how many  sacraments there are or the precise operation of grace in them.

page  81 (2nd pgraf for P.)

But the Enlightenment relished this idea of making sacraments
solely a backward look to biblical times. [I think what White means here is that the experience of the sacred, of God, is not a concern of the present world.] *To the worldview of the**
**Enlightenment, anything that smacked of the supernatural was highly suspect.* Zwingli’s concept of the presence of Christ by his divine nature in the assembly was too supernatural for the desacralized mind of the Enlightenment. *Biblical literalism and the Enlightenment made good companions *because they both preferred to relegate divine activity to the first century. [In the case of fundamentalists, this would need some clarification.]

Yet in the midst of this worldview, the Wesley brothers took a
strong stand for the supernatural character of the eucharist as a means of grace. Taking their cue from Daniel Brevint, dean of Lincoln Cathedral in the previous century, they wrote what is still the greatest collection of eucharistic hymns in the English language, /Hymns on the Lord's Supper./ Published in 1745, it contains 166 hymns and is the best index of the Wesleys’ experience of the eucharist. . . .

(And about children and the Eucharist: -- p93:) In the West, until the twelfth century, children were regularly communed with wine at their baptism; the East has communicated children throughout history. Others found more persuasive a theological argument: baptism places one within the church fully and completely, so exclusion from the Lord’s table simply because of age is an illicit form of excommunication. This has further implications in terms of those with mental disabilities. Is the ability to think rationally a prerequisite for receiving communion? . . .

Finally -- one of the questions about sacraments you were interested in is whether the sacraments are best understood as primarily a cognitive activity (they are merely signs) or whether they are causative (they effect an actual change). The AnaBaptists hold the former (which is why baptism is reserved for adults.) Interestingly, Roman Catholics withhold the Eucharist from toddlers as if it were a cognitive activity but baptize infants as if it were a causative  event. I think both are causative, myself. Some might find a parallel in this pair with the formation (liturgical churches) v. conversion (Anabaptist and fundamentalist) access to grace.


The question you ask is not exactly quick to answer, and books and other resources will do a better job than I can.

For example, for US holidays, try

More detail about Christian liturgical churches which have an extensive calendar:


Bud Heckman, ed. InterActive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook. Skylight Paths, 2008. ISBN 13:978-1-59473-237-9  In the section on different faiths, you will find information about holidays.

Stuart M. Matlins, ed., Arthur J. Magida, ed. How to Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook, 4th Edition. SkyLight Paths, 2006. ISBN-10: 159473140332,  This answers many of the questions you ask, but there are other books along this line as well, such as Gatle Colquitt White: Believers and Beliefs: A Practical Guide to Religious Etiquette for Business and Social Occasions.

and more specialized in hospital and other situations, the book I was involved with: Jeffers Steven, Michael E. Nelson, Vern Barnet, Michael C Brannigan: The Essential Guide to Religious Traditions and Spirituality for Health Care Providers, ISBN-13: 978-1846195600, ISBN-10: 1846195608

In sum, just ask in an unfamiliar situation: "I don't know the proper greeting to offer you for (this occasion). Would you teach it to me so I may offer my respectful greeting?"


Richard Rorty: Is Religion Compatible with Science?

Start at about 3 and a half minutes. If you watch through about minute 21, you may get the flavor of postmodern pragmatism. A bit further, he presents both sides of the debate between James and Clifford, and postmodern pragmatism is clarified, I think, as he proceeds. As I mentioned, I think Rorty is much clearer than the French postmodernists and infinitely more practical. (He alludes to a couple, and to Nietzsche in passing in the Q&A.) My reservations about Rorty arise from my own understanding of (at least some, but not much of Fundamentalist) religion as largely a ritual and mythic activity providing an understanding of the world of meaning, ie, the sacred, which I do not think he adequately addresses. {The video has an audio problem at about 43:30 but is restored after about 47 minutes. The lecture ends at about 49 minutes, then a Q & A, with some nice quips, I thought, but you have to plow through inaudible and tedious questions.}



. . .  It reinforces my problem with confusing religious institutions with religion, itself a nearly impossible category in the US, at least. I do weddings, almost weekly, and I often hear "We're spiritual but not religious," which means "we don't want you to think ill of us just because we don't go to church; we're really good people." I think this kind of survey makes it very difficult to understand what people might mean by their responses other than the obvious fact that religious institutions and forms and traditional faith questions or propositions have decreasing salience in how people think about what gives their lives meaning. Of course I think this development is sad, and is the inevitable result of liberal Enlightenment conceptions of religion and the concomitant influence of the Capitalist Gospel of Greed.

Constructively, an open-ended question directed toward experiences of the transcendent (a perfect baseball pitch for a boy of summer, the first time seeing the ocean, falling in love, holding a newborn, a sexual experience, an aesthetic experience of particular power, a resolution of a problem, communing at Mass, being with a loved one dying, etc) might reveal that even under the mire of a corrupt culture, apprehension of the sacred is possible. I think there are some studies that may show most people are sensitive to such experiences. Longitudinal research would be pretty interesting.

 The Interfaith Council recently named some of its partners as the Crescent Peace Society, Dialogue Institute, KC for Refugees, Heartland Coalition Against Gun Violence, Give Seven Days, Jewish Vocational Services, Heartland Alliance of Divine Love, United Religions Initiative, and the Interfaith Center at Miami University, several of which are linked from my organization's home page for easy contact. I have also sometimes found Global Ties to be surprisingly helpful. I am so glad to know this kind of information is useful for you.

It’s being reported that the melée started over whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son or just the Father.

> On Dec 1, 2021, at 9:19 PM, Vern Barnet <> wrote:
> No doubt the American Gospel of Greed affected these kids before they were five. Still you have to wonder if they were just a little to exercised and got out of hand in their disputes as to whether Charles Darwin or Alfred Russel Wallace deserved credit for the theory of evolution, or whether Franz Hals really had no understanding of the people he painted or if his perception was just overshadowed by Rembrandt, or perhaps whether string theory would ultimately pave the way to a Grand Unified Theory of Everything.  Whatever the brawl was about, the media sure does not dare to tell us, I see. Ah, a late report just in: the kids were disputing whether Hobbes or Bregman has the better view of human nature. The bad pennies drove the good pennies out. It happens. Look at Congressional retirements.
> V

on December 1, 2021 at 1:03 pm | ReplyV ern Barnet
One reason I decided to move from a little town in Pennsylvania to the KC area in 1975 was because I had read about Joseph D. McNamara, chief of KC police, in the national press. I thought, wow!, here is a city interested in rethinking the whole crime thing. McNamara didn’t last. What’s the story? Just a better job in San Jose?

on December 1, 2021 at 4:50 pm | Replyjimmycsays
I almost got into that, Vern, but the post was already long enough. McNamara, as I recall, basically got run out of town by resistors from within the ranks who didn’t like the changes he made and was attempting to make…That’s the problem the new outsider will face. He or she will need to make significant changes, and the union and non-union employees will undoubtedly screech and gnash their teeth. It’s going to be tough, and the chief is going to need strong backing from the police board. This will be a real test of the board’s willingness to see changes implemented.

That’s another reason I’d like to see a woman in the job: I think a strong woman would have a better chance of getting significant changes made than a man. The board might be more inclined to “have her back.”

on November 24, 2021 at 8:40 am | ReplyVern Barnet
All of those Schmitt lawsuits cited are ridiculous and reveal Schmitt’s buffoonery. But what really gets me is the immorality, the evil, the corruption, the villainous absence of caring about another human being, his vicious disregard for fairness, in his attempts to keep Strickland in prison.


It is so great to hear from you. I'm sure your life is pretty busy, so I appreciate your taking the trouble to write. Learning independence from parents is tricky, and mistakes on all sides can happen even with the very best of intentions.  But it's part of the way we learn, I guess, as we negotiate our ways through the uncertainties and puzzles and new situations.

I am so interested in your current Bio major. That can open up unto so many possibilities, and even medicine is such a wide and growing field.  May I tell you a story about the high school biology class I took when I was a Christian fundamentalist? I really loved biology but I did not believe in evolution. One day my class had to take a city-wide standardized test. On it were questions like, "When did eukaryotes first appear in the fossil record?" I was torn about how answer. So I gave the expected answer and added an asterisk with a note to questions like this at the bottom of the answer sheet: "I am giving the answer I was taught because I want a good grade, but I don't believe it because I believe in the Bible." When the tests came back, my teacher said I got the highest score in the entire city; but instead of feeling vindicated, I was embarrassed because in the intervening weeks, I had read Tom Paine's Age of Reason (which pretty much destroyed my respect for the Bible) and then Bertrand  Russell's "Why I am Not a Christian," and became an atheist. That was a very turbulent time for me, both in my head and with my friends. The enduring result of that experience was that I learned I could be wrong, and that, I hope, continues to keep me tolerant and a bit more humble than the arrogant "I know it all" kid that I hadbeen

{{{{{{{In Kansas City, we have one of the world's great science and technology libraries, and while most of the collection is focused on the most up-to-date research, there is an amazing historical, rare-books collection. One of the books is the first edition of Galileo's Starry Messenger (1610), with hand-corrections by Galileo himself, and it was a thrill to put on white gloves and turn the pages when I was visiting there one time. But more to biology: I had written something in the column I wrote for  the Kansas City Star every Wednesday about Darwin's Origin of Species, and a civic leader challenged me on it. I was pretty sure I had done my research, but when questioned, I decided to inspect the first edition of the book at the library. This time I was right.

211109  for Advent
The birth of joy in a landscape of sorrow happens only in the heart. The landscape may have a long distance and a wide horizon, but the heart is within, and infinite. The journey may take a very long time, but the heart discovers eternity. The passageway may be dark, but the heart is luminous. The nourishment may seem meager, but in the heart it is a feast. In the heart, all things become gifts; the heart is the realm of redemption. Living in the heart of God, all things are holy.

Expergated response to a request for spiritual conversation.

Yes, one of the worst parts of aging is the loss of friends.  And the pandemic made it impossible even to attend in person those funerals/memorial services that were held. I don't go to live musical events anymore, and will not until the pandemic ceases. In these times, I don't know many pastors who would be able to extend themselves outside of their own parishes. Because of my hearing loss, I find phone conversations excruciating, and I am not very good at giving spiritual support in any case, as you might remember. We pretty much talked passed each other, if not politely scoffed at the viewpoint the other expressed. I am no good to you because I think it is your quest for spirituality that itself is the cause of suffering. In distress, it is very difficult to practice gratitude, the only salvation I know. If you cannot find someone to listen to you about your spiritual interests, maybe you can find people to whom you can give the gift of listening to them; for giving attention to others may give you some relief by lessening the focus on your own cravings. You have befriended me in many ways, so I am sorry not to be available to you because of these circumstances. Perhaps this will seem that I am, indeed, dead to you, but know that I cherish you as a person, even as I recognize my limits to be of any help at this time.
With sincere best wishes,

I worry that matching up world religions on the "golden rule" is a disservice to the distinctive character of the various traditions and takes such statements out of context, and is a lingering ailment of the modernist/Enlightenment project, and I worry that the message about similarities backfires by making us afraid of differences (unity becomes uniformity).

Dear Mr Ryan,

I treasure your column as a thoughtful conservative contribution to public discourse. But I was sorely disappointed by your Oct 12 column. I am glad Matt Navarro wrote in response (today's paper). The concern I "felt" when I read your column was that you were on a track parallel to those who won't say Trump lost but will say a lot of people are concerned about the integrity of the election, when the reason people are concerned about the integrity of the election when there is no legal or objective cause for such concern is that people say that people are concerned about the integrity of the election. Please don't do this kind of stuff again. I'm not sure I agree with Navarro that you were "gaslighting," but your column was obfuscation, which surprised me because you usually are such a clear thinker, straightforward. (For example, I really valued your column about Hotel Bravo even though I disagreed with it.) Please don't sully your reputation with such obvious sophistry.

A faithful reader,
Vern Barnet

The Best Way to Explain the G.O.P. Is Found in the W.W.E.
Feb. 26, 2023
neokayfabe they couldn’t always figure out if what they were seeing was real or not. The human mind is easily exploited when it’s trying to swim the choppy waters between fact and fiction.

Old kayfabe was built on the solid, flat foundation of one big lie: that wrestling was real. Neokayfabe, on the other hand, rests on a slippery, ever-wobbling jumble of truths, half-truths, and outright falsehoods, all delivered with the utmost passion and commitment.

I know my perspective as I am now older is way out of the cultural mainstream (some might say unAmerican), and I have friends I love who are loyal Chiefs fans, and I am not an anthropologist and certainly not smart enough to characterize reality. From my tiny pinhole into the way things are, it does seem to me that many sports, most especially including football and boxing, are circuses or cults too often tending to keep the many of the populace distracted from attentive self-government and engines of greed, supported by taxpayers for the benefit of the rich and their egos. As for civic pride, I rather resent being socially pressured into identifying my town with a violent private enterprise. Again, I am not smart enough to evaluate studies that seem to connect aggression in the population with certain sports or whether such sports reduce violence by providing an outlet for aggressive feelings. In my ignorance, I worry that political parties have become like a violent sporting contest instead of a means to solve problems. I appreciate sports heroes like Mahomes who show a different side. When I was a kid and played sports, adults told me, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” In my old age, sports and politics seem to be a decent into “Winning isn’t the only thing; it’s everything.” I’m glad for companionate sports like golf.


To answer your question. I am still a UU minister, officially retired, but I maintain my status with the denomination and continue to meet monthly with my UU colleagues in the area who accept my Episcopalian lay status. I just see no need to burn that bridge. During the bulk of my community ministry, I evaded the rare question about my own faith because I wanted to be understood as promoting all the faiths I gathered into the original Interfaith Council -- A to Z --  American Indian, Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian Protestant, Christian Roman Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Sufi, Unitarian Universalist, Wiccan, Zoroastrian. (I tried, but originally was unsuccessful, to include Christian Orthodox, but later that happened.) This helped give me the credibility  that led to the KC Star hiring me to write a weekly "Faith and Beliefs" column for 18 years, during which time I deepened my understanding of Christianity as well as other traditions which accorded me various honors. For the first anniversary of 9/11, with dozens of churches and the many non-Christian faiths and some civic groups, I organized a day-long observance (parts of which were shown on CBS-TV), and most of that was held at the Cathedral. I was impressed with the hospitality shown there to all faiths, including an interfaith water ritual in the chancel. Separately, although I was probably theologically closest to Huayen Buddhism, I could increasingly understand Christianity as a story that resolves, or at least holds in tension, both the wonder and horror of existence, unfurled in a beautiful liturgy, conveyed through many art-forms, developing, confirming my own sense of gratitude regardless how I am feeling, with ways of expressing that in service to others. I  also have a cultural affinity, perhaps, for the Anglican tradition of literature from before John Donne to W H Auden and beyond. (T S Eliot, born in St Louis, of a long line of distinguished Unitarians, became an Anglican, and if he can go that way, so can I.) I feel immeasurably deepened each year by practicing as an Episcopalian -- without abandoning my love of other faith traditions which continue to enrich my soul. This is why it is easy for me to say I hope others love their religion as much as I love mine. This is but a sketch of  my "journey," and thank you for indulging such a long sketch!



While it would have been an interesting episode you visiting me in jail, the judge found me NOT GUILTY at my trial today. The prosecution had maybe 30-40 photos to use against me; and even after I stipulated that I owned the property, they introduced all sorts of documents (one of which had your signature on it, Joe), which was, like the whole damn thing, a colossal waste of time. I had a bunch of photos ready myself, but never got the chance to show them, and I was way over-prepared, and in my own stupid way, I kinda regret that I did not have a chance to present my carefully prepared arguments. I think that the inspector appeared incompetent when he tried to introduce photos of the Post Office mess as if this were my yard.

Again, what a waste of taxpayer resources, judge, inspector, research department, prosecutor, etc etc, plus the hours of my preparation and aggravation as a citizen. The City has serious problems to address, not some fool charge that my sidewalk is "partially obstructed." Ben and I were walking yesterday at 37th and Belleview -- gorgeous, what, maybe million dollar, homes -- and such a charge would have been far more justified around there.

I don't know why this inspector is after me -- maybe businesses that want to buy my house file complaints to force me out. Paul, you, who used to be nearby, know all about unethical complaints -- and moved out of the City. A loss to us still here.

As I sat on a bench at Ilus Davis Park before going into the courthouse across the street, I noticed the -- shall we say apparent -- violation of the ordinance against unattended growth. Some of the weeds were taller than me. I took a couple into the courtroom and used them as part of my opening statement.

I may have been found not guilty, but I still feel the process tries to victimize citizens. I know I am not alone in being harassed by incompetent or unscrupulous code inspectors. Let the good ones thrive as they help preserve homes and make a better City. And I wish out-of-state owners were subject to the court. The house next door to me has a tree now over six feet tall growing out of a basement window well. California owner.

OK, too long a report. But now you won't have to listen to me bitch about this. Until again next year.


PS. In case you missed it, I attach The Star editorial about the City inspector at the butterfly garden.

From: Vern Barnet <>
Sent: Friday, September 10, 2021 11:06:26 AM
To: Bishop Marty <>
Subject: Thank you, with love

 Dear Bishop Marty,

I am a writer, but  any competence with language seems to fail me now. Of course I want to thank you for your leadership of the Diocese through what might be considered normal challenges -- and also through what seems to me (from what little I know) unexpected, rough waters, and your sailing through successfully.

But I want to thank you for something more elusive, which I do not understand, but which I feel keenly.

I did not like you very much the night you baptized me, though I respected your office and cherish that primal occasion. But as I began to see you working, a human fulfilling a sacred office with genuine care for others and the institution of the Church, my mere dutiful respect turned to growing admiration. Your assignments to me were gifts. My soul was tacking this way long before that Maundy Thursday when you and I washed each other's feet. So at that service, I said that I love you. It was safe to say that then because others were around. If I had been asked to explain what I meant then, I might have constructed some verbiage about "Christian love" so that it did not seem weird.

But as I try to understand it, such an explanation does not do justice to the way the affection is for you, personally. Yet not exactly personally, since who you are I do not know well at all, though your unexpected personal attention to me has touched me. Those touches were light but felt deeply. So while the love is inherently personal, it is also interwoven with the office of Bishop. I know a little about psychological projections, as in psychotherapy and such, but that secular explanation seems insufficient. It is something more mystical. The story of apostolic succession may be part of it. And I know about Hindu gurus, but the love I have for you is not that, either. I've thought about Ibn Arabi's understanding of the attributes of God reflected in humans, and certainly I have seen Christ reflected in you. Such a love is fulfilling in itself. I need nothing from you. But I will always treasure those reflections.The love is a kind of divine gratitude wrapped up in an urgent wish for you to be supremely well, a state which, as children of God, as baptized Christians, we all are given. So why should I have this wish for you when it is already assured? This is like a Zen koan.

I do not seek to have my confusion dissolved, yet I wish I could write more clearly about it for you. So in my human confusion inside a relaxed confidence of God's grace, I say simply . . . I love you: Thank you, with every good wish.

Your bother in Christ,
Vern Barnet

On 9/10/2021 12:00 PM, Bishop Marty wrote:

 Vern, your expressed thoughts always strike deep into the center of my being. So, I thank you for the profundity of your message to me.  I am also grateful for the several times you have sent to me gracious words of approbation. Now, I am grateful for this latest expression of affection. It means much to me. In return, may I acknowledge anew that I love you and this diocesan family deeply.  Thank you. May God always light your path.


COMMENT ON Used to Be UU: The Systemic Attack on UU Liberalism: What You Need to Know, What You Need to Do
by Frank Casper and Jay Kiskel, 2021
Posted on Amazon 2021 July 28

     I quit the UUMA after learning about the way Todd Eklof (whom I have never met) was treated, but with earlier encounters with the self-righteous group-think apparently in UU leadership these days. Still, my personal experience with the UUMA, problematic as it has been, is comparatively slight, though is consistent with the outrageous behavior of UUMA officials reported in this book.
     But I wonder if the fancy arguments about Critical Race Theory and Postmodernism are basically a subtext (or supertext) for power struggles arising from the tendency, so evident from the 1967 General Assembly onward, to turn the denomination away from its focus on supporting local congregations to a political agenda, varying over the years in hue and tint.
     I am sorry that the authors of this book present such a cramped and misleading view of Postmodernism, citing writers of no particular academic distinction in the field, though I cannot dispute that some noxious variants of "Postmodernism" may be used in UU theological education. (Richard Rorty, for example, a moral and political philosopher worthy of admiration, is often classified as a Postmodernist in the tradition of Pragmatist John Dewey.) The idea that valuing reason is an Enlightenment gift ignores much of world history, and specifically the long Western tradition from the ancient Greeks though Aquinas forward. The Enlightenment in many ways distorted religion and corrupted society (as William Blake saw so well so early), and the very first of the Six Sources, by specifying "transcending mystery" corrects and supplements one of the many defects of the Enlightenment project. Similarly, the implication that the idea of democracy originates from the Enlightenment is quite arguable.
     All this is unnecessary to the main point the authors seem to be making, and which needs to be made. I wish the writers had minimized the philosophical arguments and focused even more on the power struggle. Those who wish to recover some integrity for the UUA need not respond so much to the way the authoritarians use Critical Race Theory to define the argument. Why let the authoritarians establish the grounds on which the contest takes place?
     Nonetheless, this book is an extraordinary exploration of the crises affecting Unitarian Universalism. Most people have some sense of fairness, and the manifest unfairness the authoritarians have exhibited, and the unfair control they seek, would be the grounds on which the contest might be most easily transparent, whatever the outcome. Invoking Martin Luther King Jr's understanding of, and vision for, America, may be a better platform for discussion than distortions of Critical Race Theory.
     As a retired UU minister who worships as a layman in a more friendly denomination (integrated in all ways without the power struggles the UUs have perpetuated), it cost me little to quit the UUMA, though I cherish friendships among colleagues. I worry for those who have been slandered and abused by the authoritarians. This book is of great value to inform and arouse those who wish a moral and effective denominational order in keeping with the Fifth Principle, to embrace the living tradition of the liberal faith.
     The liberal tradition seems a better path to the "Beloved Community" than the road the self-important critics of honest discussion who want to use their power to suppress questions and the democratic method. The danger for those who shut down honest exchange the disaster that follows from playing in the Karpman Drama Triangle where the victim (or the rescuer) becomes the oppressor. (Wikipedia has a good summary of the Karpman Drama Triangle.) The danger for the rest of us is finding ways to avoid entanglement in the game while seeking to transmit a heritage of great value to the future.
     The Rev Vern Barnet, DMn
     minister emeritus, Center for Religious Experience and Study


2021/Jul/28 --
 Bayerische Staatsoper (Bavarian State Opera)  -- Idomeneo


One of my favorite tenors, Michael Polenzani (an American!) is singing the title role in Mozart's opera seria "Idomeneo" in a free German production. He has fantastic breath control and can sing both robustly and tenderly, in both classical and romantic styles. So I "tuned in" this morning after Ben and I got back from our walk and I put aside some of the stuff on my desk that can wait a while. So far I think the production is stupid and annoying, the camera work distracting, etc. The singing (and music) is utterly glorious, and the clash of emotions begins this opera. (Several characters so far are in conflict with themselves, one, for example,  Ilia, a Trojan princess who is in love with Idamante, the son of Idomeneo, the Greek (Crete) king, and feels that loving him is a betrayal of her love of her country and father.)  Idamante, a prince of upright and generous character, is told that his father, whom he loves but has not seen for years because of the war, has just been ship-wrecked and is dead. Throughout the opera the various gods, particularly Neptune, are cursed and praised. As it turns out Idomeneo vows to Neptune that if Neptune will save him, he will sacrifice the first person he sees when he arrives home. Idamante now is on the shore, lamenting his dear father's death, when his father, Idomeneo, appears, hears his son's lament and love for him and realizes he is bound to kill his own beloved son. When they both recognize each other, Idomeneo will have nothing to do with his son and does not explain his vow, and Idamante's joy at finding his father alive turns to confusion and perplexity about being rejected. This, just 38 minutes into the 3-hour opera, is where I had to stop because the emotion was so overwhelming (even though it is expressed is such a stylized fashion), I needed a breather. I love this opera, and through twists and turns, it has a happy ending for all but one character.


Finished the opera. Absolutely silly and distracting staging, with the singing and the orchestra superb anyhow. I was hardly thrilled to see Idomeneo given a sandwich and a can of beer. And Elettra's death scene: was that suicide by grease or chocolate or what? The Met's production, when she collapsed from her own jealously, was so superior to this gimmick. Earlier the lights flashing on the audience made no sense. So much extraneous activity on the stage throughout much of the performance. Are opera lovers in Munich just distract-able tic-tok kids? Staging and choreography (not to mention the stupid costumes, if you can call overalls costumes) should support and even enhance the acting and the music, instead of pulling our attention away from the moving drama with magnificent acting. The execution scene was well-staged, and again I had to get a grip on myself to continue.Polenzani's performance was well-applauded, but I have to say that the entire cast was excellent as was the conducting, though I did find the use of a modern piano in one place distracting, almost to say <See, this is like a Mozart piano concerto>. I'm not absolutely sure, but I recall this was an area, not a recitativo secco.


Thanks to Patrick for directing me to free music now that the Met series has ended.

I can't figure out those Germans. German productions I have seen are gimmicky to distraction. Elucidate, Patrick.

I tickle to think what they will do to TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, as maybe this is the opera that could use some distraction.


    Constantinos Carydis
    Antú Romero Nunes
    Dustin Klein
Set Design
    Phyllida Barlow
Costume Design
    Victoria Behr
    Michael Bauer
Set Design Assistant
    Anna Schöttl
    Rainer Karlitschek
    Stellario Fagone

    Matthew Polenzani
    Emily D'Angelo
    Olga Kulchynska
    Hanna-Elisabeth Müller
    Martin Mitterrutzner
Oberpriester Poseidons
    Caspar Singh
Die Stimme (Orakel)
    Callum Thorpe
    Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper
    Extrachor der Bayerischen Staatsoper

Patrick sent this in response:


What a great piece of writing! This article confirms a number of complaints I had about the trashy Idomeneo production that I didn't mention in my rant. I was interested in the complaint that too many opera goers don't know music, don't know chamber music, etc. Do you think this is true in the US?

(Questions,quibbles about the piece: I don't know enough about Corelli's acting, but I have to say I think he was a fantastic singer. Also I don't know what third-rate Handel operas he might be thinking of. I love all the Handel I've seen.)

I cannot join you in what seems a wholesale condemnation of Peter Sellars. OK, much of his stuff is trash, but his direction of  Nixon in China for the Met was fine, and I would like to see his Idomeneo -- . (This review errs in saying Idomeneo is the only Mozart opera Sellars has done.) While I prefer a traditional Don Giovanni, as troubled as I am about the opera itself, his setting as a NY gang scene does illuminate some aspects of the work. Also I can't complain about his libretto of Dr Atomic.

Anyhow, the article you linked me to makes me appreciate the Met even more. It sometimes goes astray in its productions, but mostly does either traditional or justifiable Regietheatre,as for example Agrippina.

Thanks, thanks, thanks for sending me to this amazing article. It is comfort in my prejudiced old age.



Sorry, in my opinion, this article is a mass of ignorance, confusion, and distortion. The idea that "Panpsychism is gaining steam in science communities" is risible.

An outline of what I think:

1. Everything insofar as it interacts with other things, is "conscious" if by "consciousness" you mean the ability to respond. A salt suspended in water will tend to grow into a crystal. A ball hit by a bat will maybe deliver a home run. I think this is a rather trivial meaning of "consciousness," but I grant the point offered in the article's childish survey of ideas. Organelles like mitochondria and organisms like trees have a more sophisticated "consciousness" as they "relate" to others of their kind or to their environment, with what might even look like, to use anthropomorphic language, a sense of "community." A classic example, of course, is an ant colony. I do not think it is terribly useful to bring "science" into justifying the holy sense of awe humans may feel about such phenomena, as when some native Americans may, to movingly, talk about the "rock people."

2. Degrees of "consciousness" as we more ordinarily use the term can be asserted of creatures that have some sense of self, likely members of the Corvidae family, the Cephalopoda, certainly many mammals such as elephants, dogs, chimps, whales, and homo sapiens. A sense of self is possible when a creature not only has a model understanding of the world (such as up and down, what is good to eat, etc) but that model includes (recursively) oneself. Thus I have a picture, a model of the world which includes John, Patrick, Paul, Luke, and mountains, trigonometry, history, peaches, clocks, weather, and so forth -- and myself, which John, Patrick, Paul, Luke perceive differently, and in some respects may be more apt than my own model of myself.

3. The sense of self is always incomplete and fragmentary, and the notion of identity -- embedded in the idea of an eternal soul -- is misleading, of necessity because of its incompleteness. We even have expressions like, "I am of two minds about that."

4. Religious ideas like "soul" or "atman" can be both beautiful and destructive, just as identity politics can be both instructive and calamitous.

5. Myself (myselves, better) as I write prefer the ur-Buddhist analysis, which pretty much agrees with recent psycological studies, namely, a person is a complex of many consciousnesses (not to mention "body memory, etc), and at death all that falls apart, even as in life it is constantly shifting and changing. I like the metaphor I've offered before of the mind as a corporation with competing departments and shifting CEOs with changing attention.

6. Technically, I am anti-reductionist and I am much closer to the ancient Hebrew understanding of the person (there was no thought of individual survival after death: immortality was a group thing) than to the dualism afflicting us from Plato, Augustine, and Descartes. I am fond of Michael Polanyi's notion of tacit knowledge. In practice, I think it is more useful to think about character as Aristotle put it, what a person chooses and shuns. The soul this not a thing; the soul is a succession of activities. Instead of the distinction between body and soul, I am intrigued by polarities like substance and function.

7. Arguments of course most welcome.

Yours truly but so imperfectly,
Vern the Void

on July 21, 2021 at 10:39 pm | ReplyVERN BARNET
Agreed. And what about the MO Lottery? Isn’t there a similar dynamic of preying on those among the most vulnerable? It is one thing for “riverboat” private “enterprise” to promote gambling, bad enough; but I think it is wicked for governments to do so — even for a worthy purpose. The devil appears as an angel of light.

on July 22, 2021 at 8:18 am | Replyjimmycsays
I agree with you completely about the lottery, Vern. Once the “riverboat” wakes hit Missouri, it was only a matter of time before the state got its grubby hands into the action…How many times have you been behind some poor-looking people at QT and had to wait while the clerk rang up their cigarettes, six-pack and lottery tickets?

Our former city logo and slogan, "City of Fountains, Heart of  the Nation," and water collected from our City and area fountains, have been meaningful in numerous interfaith activities, including events with international visitors. So thank you for your service on the Foundation. Here is a hint of this:

So let my love of our fountains be clear as I complain about the environmentally offensive fountain in Mill Creek Park. I have walked there almost daily for decades. But only after a couple years of these walks did I really look at the fountain. I found a violent celebration of human subjugation of nature, a product of industrial arrogance, a blasphemy of environmental concerns.

The splash and play of the water is what we notice and enjoy, but the degradation of the planet is its message as it elevates humans over a more wholesome ecological spirit.

This is why I protested naming it for a man of peace.

I love being able to walk easily to four substantial parks from where I live in Westport, and being able to brag about my City of Fountains. I worry that the civic spirit you and the others exemplify may not be as effectively received by succeeding generations, and the heritage of service may be diminished. Still, celebrating folks like Anita is a way of reminding us how community is made.

Godly Play

The "Godly Play" story-telling 3-day training. Each of us 12 had to learn and tell a GP story. I was one of the last to tell a story. I was really intimidated by many of the others. I was really tired and felt woefully unprepared as I was making so many mistakes in rehearsing the text and the actions. On the last day after lunch, it was my time to tell my assigned story. It was an amazing experience. I woke up at 4 this morning and figured out that when I told my story, from the first phrase, "Everything has changed," to the end (maybe 20 minutes), I was in a trance broken only slightly by one time when I, for split second, asked myself, "What comes next?" and one other time when I realized I had left out one part and then effortlessly added it back in. Almost all that time there was no me, there was simply the story telling itself. When the story ended, and I became aware of the others in the room, it was like waking up. At one point during the debriefing, I got pretty teary.

When some of the others told their very different stories but with the same style we were learning, I realize I was also in a light trance, but not as deep as when I told mine. This was completely unexpected.

I thought what I've been doing with the 3-5 year olds for several years now was Godly Play, but it's been pseudo-Godly Play, worthy in itself, but not like what I now know is possible.

1. Israel created Hamas to weaken the Palestinian authority.
2. Hamas is popular in Gaza because of its effective social services. Its military wing is only a part of Hamas.
3. Israel started this violence with the evictions of Arab residents in Jerusalem.
4. Netanyahu likely benefits politically from the tumoil as he faces corruption charges and the contest for the leadership of the country.
5. Nothing substantially can be done about these horrors until Israel rejects its colonial expansion and oppression. This will not happen until American Jews (and at least some "Evangelical" Christians) are able to break the power of AIPAC and such.

So why do I praise The Times for publishing something I absolutely find repulsive (as I find many of the columns by Bret Stephens? Because I want to know what thoughtful people on all sides are thinking.

I am glad The Times also published this:

Bernie Sanders: The U.S. Must Stop Being an Apologist for the Netanyahu Government
May 14, 2021

Of course I condemn antisemitism. Of course there is no excuse to attack Jews. Nor is there an excuse to attack Palestinians or deprive Arabs of their homes in Jerusalem. I also condemn the Israeli instigation of the recent violent conflict which left 219 people dead in Gaza, at least 63 are children, according to its health ministry. Of the 10 people killed in Israel, two children are among the dead, the country's medical service says. I condemn violence against Asians and Pacific Islanders. I condemn American structural racism. I condemn Islamophobia. I condemn the genocide of the American Indian. I condemn all forms of prejudice, cruelty, terrorism, assault, rape, murder, exploitation, oppression, and such. In short, I condemn sin. Is that so surprising?


Today I took the last large tomato, perfect still in its ripeness, from the produce bin in the fridge and beheld it as a holy thing to be sacrificed. My knife cut thick strips and placed one and a half on a large slice of bread covered with a nut butter mixture touched with horseradish sauce and covered it with another slice of bread on a waiting plate. The half slice remaining went naked into my mouth. The other slices were variously teased with pesto and mayo and went directly in happy succession into my enjoyment. I then divided the sandwich in two. With pause and admiration and with the rigorous contemplation of an Episcopalian, consumed in proper course the two halves of the sandwich.

Yesterday I finished off the second of five jars of tomato-lentil soup from the freezer. I had added a bit too much hot pepper to that particular jar and was glad to alternate my spoon from the soup to the dish of yoghurt which cooled my tongue, ready for the next delicious assaut it would receive.

Also in the freezer is a jar of cooked, pureed tomatoes for maybe tomato-garlic soup. Did I convey the idea that tomatoes are a love of my life, the objects of veneration, and mystical orbs of mystery, possibility, and intrigue?



William Barr pressed the prosecutor John Durham to find flaws in the 2016 Trump-Russia investigation

The Chiefs proudly broke racial barriers. Kansas City erected them.By Mark Dent February 9, 2023

Free for what?
     In the GOP rebuttal to the president's State of the Union address, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, in part, "Most Americans simply want to live their lives in freedom and peace." Every time I hear a Republican say "freedom," I feel sick. What freedoms?
     Not the freedom to get an abortion. Not the freedom to identify as LGBTQ. Not the freedom to get whatever books you want to read from the library. Not the freedom to learn all of our country's history, even if it supposedly makes white people look bad. Not the freedom to practice a religion that's not Christianity.
     The only real freedoms today's GOP seems to care about is that you're able to have as many guns as you want and that you can carry them wherever you want without having any idea of how use them — which in and of itself takes away everyone else's freedom to feel safe in any public place.
     So again, I ask: What freedoms?   - Tom Meek, Lee's Summit  LtrToEditor KCSTAR 230212

The Best Way to Explain the G.O.P. Is Found in the W.W.E.

DOMINION v FOX  Fox Stars Privately Expressed Disbelief About Election Fraud Claims. ‘Crazy Stuff.’ The comments, by Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and others, were released as part of a defamation suit against Fox News by Dominion Voter Systems.   What Fox News Says When You’re Not Listening
{ }
{ } How Tucker Carlson Reshaped Fox News — and Became Trump’s Heir  
Why Fox News Lied to the Viewers It ‘Respects’  
After Fox News called the 2020 presidential election for Joe Biden, top executives and anchors met to figure out how they had messed up.Not because they got the key call wrong, but because they were right. Inside the panicked damage control at Fox News as the hard right lashed out.
Conservative Media Pay Little Attention to Revelations About Fox News. -- Even in today’s highly partisan media world, experts said, the lack of coverage about the private comments of Fox’s top executives and hosts stands out.
The Whole Thing Seems Insane’: New Documents Shed Light on Debate Inside Fox After Election
Messages and depositions from the network’s stars like Tucker Carlson revealed serious misgivings about claims of election fraud even as some of the hosts told their audiences of millions a very different story.  
5 Times Tucker Carlson Privately Reviled Trump: ‘I Hate Him’
The Fox host’s private comments, revealed recently in court documents, contrast sharply with his support of conservatives on his show.
Opinion  What is Fox News hiding in the Dominion lawsuit?
Opinion  Sean Hannity, America’s No. 2 threat to democracy: An A-to-Z guide
Opinion  5 big takeaways from the Dominion-Fox News document dump
Trump Lawyer Admits to Falsehoods in 2020 Fraud Claims
Jenna Ellis acknowledged that she knowingly misrepresented the facts about election fraud in a disciplinary procedure by Colorado state bar officials.
Tucker Carlson said he hates Trump ‘passionately,’ Fox lawsuit texts show
Exhibits in Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation suit reveal the ‘existential crisis’ within Fox News triggered by Trump’s 2020 loss and his rift with a once-favored network
Records Show Fox and G.O.P.’s Shared Quandary: Trump
Fox hosts and executives privately mocked the former president’s election fraud claims, even as the network amplified them in a frantic effort to appease viewers.

Bryan Magee - The Great Philosophers
The quality of Magee's guests' contributions vary. Some are superb; others are not as articulate as Magee and don't understand a non-technical audience.
0:00 Myles Burnyeat on Plato - illuminating perspective on the three stages of Platonic views
43:59 Martha Nussbaum on Aristotle
1:27:24 Anthony Kenny on Medieval Philosophy - a brilliant conversation with significant general characterizations
2:10:25 Bernard Williams on Descartes
2:53:30 Anthony Quinton on Spinoza and Leibniz - a brilliant conversation - the guest matches Magee well
3:37:02 Michael Ayers on Locke and Berkeley
4:20:09 John Passmore on Hume
5:01:24 Geoffrey Warnock on Kant
5:44:14 Peter Singer on Hegel and Marx
6:27:15 Frederick Copleston on Schopenhauer
7:10:42 J. P. Stern on Nietzsche
7:53:42 Hubert Dreyfus on Husserl and Heidegger
8:39:15 Sidney Morgenbesser on the American Pragmatists - alas, disappointing guest
9:20:04 A. J. Ayer on Frege, Russell, and Modern Logic - worth watching, harmless and rather technical
10:02:12 John Searle on Wittgenstein - brilliant interchange between guest and Magee

Bryan Magee & Noam Chomsky (1978)

Beethoven 32 Piano Sonatas

Wittgenstein on Religion (Sea of Faith with Don Cupitt)

Richard Rorty (1994)  Do We Need Ethical Principles?
Richard Rorty: Is Religion Compatible with Science?  Halmet

John Tavener: The Lamb: King's College Cambridge:
John Tavener: The Lamb:  Tenebrae Choir:
John Tavener: The Lamb:  Motivic Development analysis
John Tavener: The Lamb:  The Erebus Ensemble
John Tavener: The Lamb:  Ars Nova Copenhagen
BBC: Towards the Musica Perennis - Sir John Tavener

Tibetan bowls

This is the young prof I like, Jeffrey Kaplan, here dealing with procrastination--
(Don't put off watching this! ha!)

Here he is answering, for students and their parents, What is philosophy and why is studying it valuable?

I also like his lectures on how to read and remember a text, how to take lecture notes, etc, as well as his videos on specific philosophers, problems, and ideas.

For Patrick, deluded by Dualism:  a quick overview of seven philosophical texts -- watch the first five minutes (Plato, Descartes, Princes Elizabeth). I think his passing mention of Aristotle is unfair, but cute.


Daniel Bonevac: Wittgenstein (Ideas of the Twentieth Century, Fall 2013) 
Alas, the professor fails to sufficiently provide the context of the problem which Wittgenstein wrote the Tractatus to solve. Further, the professor at points appears to misrepresent the Tractatus. And most seriously, this lecture might give the impression that Wittgenstein is esteemed chiefly because of the Tractatus, where it was his rejection of the picture theory of language in his later work ("the second Wittgenstein") which seems to have been more significant.   don't find a second lecture on the later Wittgenstein by this professor; if such exists, I apologize. Perhaps a better, more accurate and fuller introduction to Wittgenstein, both his early and later phases, can be found here, with Brian Mcgee interviewing John Searle:


Sarah Cooper - Donald Trump


UUA "Woke" Mess

If you are interested in why I resigned my membership in the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association several years ago, the article cited below, while not covering the problem with the Ministers Association, gives a wider view of the denomination itself falling apart. I have my own story of being forced to edit what I say in order to please the run-amuck political correctness -- in the very area of my academic expertise, world religions. I still retain my status as a UU minister and usually attend the monthly local UU ministers Zoom session, though after I resigned from the national Ministers Association, there was a substantial question my continued participation in the local group, for which I am senior member. According to the article, the UUA's problem is discussed also in The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff. I see this as a continuation of the notorious 1967 UUA General Assembly, where the Goals Committee Report was hijacked in a power play. It is hard not to wonder if the power struggle now underway will lead to the dissolution of the denomination with the assets distributed according to the wishes of this take-over gang.

This link includes photos and highlights --

Here is the main text:

The culture wars dividing America’s most liberal church

December 9, 2023

The Reverend Todd Eklof is an amateur ventriloquist, a social justice activist, a father and an atheist. He is also at the heart of a struggle for the future of America’s most liberal church.

At around lunchtime on Friday 21 June 2019, the third day of the annual general assembly (GA) of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) in Spokane, Washington state, Eklof began handing out a book of three essays he’d spent the previous 10 months working on: The Gadfly Papers.

Unitarian Universalism, a religious movement with some 150,000 members across the US, has long been considered a beacon of progressivism, pluralism and tolerance. But in these essays, Eklof launched a stinging attack on its leadership, arguing that the UUA was driving the church in an illiberal, dogmatic, intolerant and “identitarian” direction and that it had become a “self-perpetuating echo chamber” that prioritised “emotional thinking” over logic and reason.

Borrowing from some of the arguments laid out in Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s book The Coddling of the American Mind, Eklof described several instances in which he believed the UUA had veered too far into political correctness and emotional “safetyism”.

One example he cited was when, after publishing an article in its magazine by a woman whose daughter had a trans girlfriend on the importance of congregations being inclusive of trans people, its president issued a public apology for failing to realise that “a story told from a cisgender perspective would cause harm”. Another was when the church’s “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign was changed to “Side with Love” because it might be offensive to those who cannot stand. 

Aware that the book was likely to cause a stir, he had waited until the conference was almost over before handing it out. “I thought if I gave it away on the Wednesday, there might be all kinds of chaos,” says Eklof, a tall, teddy-bearish man of 59. We are sitting at his kitchen table in Spokane with his wife Peggy and rescue dog Wiley, a dead ringer for Scooby-Doo. “I knew enough at this point to know people would go online and go crazy and so I thought: ‘I would rather them do that when they’re home than when they’re here in Spokane.’”

Around 9pm that evening, he was called by the co-moderator of the GA and asked to attend a meeting at 7am the next morning to discuss “the disruption and harm” his book was causing. “My instinct was: ‘I don’t work for these people and I am not going to give them my power,’” Eklof tells me. So he said no. The co-moderator told him, politely, that was just fine, but he would not be allowed to return to the GA.

“I hung up the phone and I said to Peggy, ‘I think we’ve just won. The GA can’t get away with banning a minister for giving away a book — all hell is going to break loose,’” says Eklof. “And that’s what’s happened over a period of years, as more and more people continue to become aware of what’s going on.”

The chaos and controversy that ensued has surpassed even Eklof’s wildest imaginings, and serves as a kind of microcosm of the way the culture wars can divide even the most politically liberal members of American society. Because the struggle in the Unitarian Universalist church is not one between progressives and conservatives; it is between people on the same side of the political spectrum. “Why are UUs so bad at singing hymns?” goes one of the (many) jokes about Unitarian Universalism. “Because they’re always reading ahead to see if they agree with the lyrics!”

A life-long Democrat, Eklof was fired from a job in 2005 after speaking out in favour of gay marriage. He also wrote in The Gadfly Papers that America remains a “systematically white supremacist country”. But since the book’s publication, he has been accused of racism, homophobia, ableism and bullying; he has been dropped from a mentoring position at a theological school; and “disfellowshipped” — in effect, excommunicated — from the church. The UUA says this is because he “refused to participate in the process of reviewing concerns and complaints”; Eklof says the process was rigged.

Eklof is still minister of the main UU church in Spokane — the UU church’s system of “congregational polity” means that each church is self-governing and so chooses its own leaders. But the so-called Gadfly affair has — along with the impact of Covid — lost him about a quarter of his now 300-strong congregation, so last year he took a 25 per cent pay cut, to $75,000. And Eklof has become so disillusioned by the church’s leadership that earlier this year he set up a new association that some believe might end up splitting the church in two.

Unitarian Universalism is a distinctly American religion. Formed in 1961, when the American Unitarian Association merged with the Universalist Church of America — both have roots in the Christian faith — the modern UU church has no formal connection to Christianity. In fact, it has no prescribed dogma at all: it welcomes those from all faiths, and those with no religious faith at all. Not only can an atheist join the UU church; they can also become one of its ministers. “Deeds not creeds,” goes one of its taglines. “We need not think alike to love alike,” goes another.

But Eklof was concerned that this principle was being abandoned. “I thought freedom of conscience and freedom of speech was our thing,” he wrote in his preface. “But as the essays I’ve written herein will show, not so much anymore.”

On Saturday 22 June 2019, the church ministers’ association’s People of Color and Indigenous Chapter issued a public statement. It cited no passages from the book, but said “the material in question lacks both respect and compassion”, and called on “white colleagues to resist confusion and renew their dedication to the work of decentering white supremacy”.

The same day, a statement that would eventually be signed by 485 white UU ministers was duly issued. “We recognise that a zealous commitment to ‘logic’ and ‘reason’ over all other forms of knowing is one of the foundational stones of White Supremacy Culture,” they wrote.

The UU church, whose membership is overwhelmingly white, middle-class and highly educated, has a long history of social justice activism. In the 19th century, Unitarians fought for the abolition of slavery, women’s rights and penal reform. During the 1960s, the newly merged church was heavily involved in the civil rights movement; one minister was murdered by white supremacists for his involvement in the protests in Selma, Alabama.

The church also has a history of being ahead of its time. In 1970, it passed a “general resolution” calling for the legalisation of marijuana. The same year, it became the first church to officially condemn discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, ordaining its first openly gay minister in 1979, and its first openly transgender minister in 1988. It ordained its first female African-American minister in 1981: Yvonne Seon, a poet and professor who is also the mother of the comedian Dave Chappelle.

Man reading church sign announcing service in memory of murdered Unitarian Universalist minister James Reeb
Arlington Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts, in March 1965, where a service was held for Unitarian Universalist minister, James Reeb, murdered in Selma © Associated Press

And at the end of the 1990s, Unitarian Universalism once again appeared to be ahead of the pack by embracing a new approach that was gaining ground in progressive academic circles: anti-racist theory. At its 1997 general assembly, the UUA passed a resolution to set up a “Journey Towards Wholeness” task force, whose report recommended that their congregations “participate in anti-racism and anti-oppression programming” in order to collectively become “an anti-racist multicultural institution”.

But not everyone was on board with this new movement. Some people felt that while it might look like liberalism, it was actually rooted in a completely different analysis of the world and that this was in effect a new kind of dogma — in a movement that was meant to have no such thing. With no creed to follow, the church seemed to be instead embracing what the African-American academic John McWhorter, in his bestselling book Woke Racism — which cites Eklof and the Gadfly affair — has called “a new religion”.

One of the people concerned about this new direction was Reverend Thandeka — a name given to her by the late Desmond Tutu at a dinner party in 1984, meaning “beloved” in Xhosa. She would later become one of 62 ministers who signed a letter expressing concern at Eklof’s treatment.

“His book isn’t perfect, since no book is,” Thandeka, now 77, tells me over video from her home near Boston, Massachusetts (where the UU church is headquartered). “Todd uses a different set of terms than I do, which is part of what it means to be part of a non-credal liberal faith tradition. But . . . Todd is not a racist.”

Thandeka, a prominent African-American UU minister and theologian, gave an address at the 1999 general assembly entitled “Why anti-racism will fail”, criticising the UUA’s programme. She argued it made “an erroneous assumption about the nature and structure of power in America” and that by encouraging white people to “confess their racism”, anti-racism teachers were in fact having the counter-productive effect of creating “whites who have learned to think of themselves as racists”.

“It had actually stepped backward into a theology that this liberal faith tradition rejected: the Christian doctrine of original sin,” she tells me. But senior members of the church quickly turned against her after this. “I was kicked off committees, I was told this was an ‘attempt to accrue power’,” she says. “I was told I was ignoring the way in which whites are just guilty guilty guilty, of original sin, of racism — I was attacked.” Was this, I ask, by white people or black people? “Well, since 99 per cent of the association was white . . . ” she breaks into laughter.

That the church is so overwhelmingly white and wealthy has always clashed with its view of itself as progressive, Peter Morales — who served as the first Latino president of the UUA, between 2009 and 2017 — tells me. A 2014 Pew Research survey found that only 1 per cent of its members were black, more than a third had graduate degrees, and more than two-fifths had a household income of $100,000 or more.

Reverend Thandeka was one of 62 ministers who voiced concern at Eklof’s treatment

Peter Morales, the UUA’s first Latino president, later accused of ‘male white privilege’'

“One of the tensions in Unitarian Universalism is that it desires a level of racial and ethnic diversity that it doesn’t have. Morales became a very fashionable surname,” he tells me with a smile, at his home in the sleepy, lavender-filled town of Sequim, in northwestern Washington state. “If you are black or Latino, you get overwhelmed with requests: will you serve on this committee? Will you represent us here?”

Morales, also now 77, had a mixed view of the “tokenism” he perceived around him. On the one hand, he didn’t like people’s assumption that he was a “diversity hire”; on the other, he was grateful for all the opportunities he was getting. And he made increasing ethnic diversity a priority during his presidency, with some success: he says that under his leadership, the proportion of people of colour working for the UUA increased from 14 to 20 per cent, and from 5 per cent to 9 per cent at the managerial level.

But in March 2017, just three months before Morales’s second and final term was due to end, a controversy broke out over a hiring decision, when a white man was chosen to replace another white man as the leader of the Southern Region of the UUA over a Latina woman. A furore broke out on social media, with the woman claiming in a blog post that “it is his unearned white male privilege that made him the ‘right fit’ over me”.

Morales wrote to staff, urging them to show “more humility and less self righteousness, more thoughtfulness and less hysteria”. But that just made things worse. “It wasn’t well received — it never occurred to me that ‘hysteria’ would be seen as an attack against women,” he tells me. Three days later, he stood down as president. “It’s a soap opera and there are a lot of dead bodies,” he says.

Morales’s ouster provided the opportunity for the progressive movement that had been building in the church since the late 1990s to consolidate its power. Three African-American interim presidents were appointed to take Morales’s place; a board of trustees was commissioned to “analyse structural racism” and “make recommendations for systemic change”; and just after the general assembly that year, the church’s “white supremacy culture” was denounced by its leaders on National Public Radio.

The following year, the UUA’s own Beacon Press — known for publishing the likes of James Baldwin and Martin Luther King Jr — put out a book that would become a bestseller in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, arguing that white hypersensitivity to charges of racism is part of what underpins racial discrimination in America.

One of the most vocal opponents of Eklof and his allies has been Reverend Sarah Skochko, a 39-year-old mother with a masters in poetry who gave a sermon in October 2019 to her congregation in Eugene, Oregon, calling Eklof’s book “morally reprehensible”. She describes “the Gadflies” as an “alt-right movement” within the church made up of “overwhelmingly retired”, “mostly white men” who are “trying to stop the justice work of our denomination” and who disingenuously present themselves as “either victims of an inquisition, or as valiant heretics fighting for free speech”.

Skochko doesn’t buy into the idea that the UUA is veering into illiberalism. “I’ve only heard the word ‘illiberal’ used by people who aren’t getting their own way,” she tells me. “In my opinion [Eklof] intended on getting disfellowshipped all along, as a publicity stunt,” she adds. “His decreasing relevance bothers him.”

Although she has previously written that “Gadflyism”, as she calls it, “is tearing apart our churches”, she plays down to me the idea that there might be any kind of schism developing in the church. “There’s one main grouping, and then there’s a smattering of malcontents,” she tells me.

Not every congregation is even aware that this struggle is going on, and among those who are, not everyone wants to become entangled in it. “There are people who are just letting The Jerry Springer Show play out, are like, ‘Yes and?’” Reverend Vanessa Rush Southern tells me in her airy office in the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, whose early members included the essayist and abolitionist Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Southern defends the direction that the UUA is going in, though she does acknowledge that it doesn’t always get everything right. “Like all moments of growth there is a frameshift that happens and there is a degree to which some of that can end up being a bit clumsy,” she says. “But I’m not going to be in a conversation that’s about tearing one another apart for the sake of drama. We are wrestling with how to be in the world and to whom we need to be most accountable. Change is messy. And, meanwhile, I have a city to minister to.”

In the 59 years between the formation of the UU church in 1961 and 2020, nine ministers were permanently disfellowshipped, seven of whom were expelled for reasons related to sexual misconduct or the possession of child pornography. In the three years since 2020, five ministers, including Eklof, have been disfellowshipped — for much less serious transgressions.

I ask Carey McDonald, UUA executive vice-president, why this might be. “I would say we’ve started taking concerns and complaints more seriously in the dozen years that I’ve worked at the UUA,” he tells me. “We’ve improved and enhanced our processes.” McDonald also tells me that any changes in the church’s direction made by the UUA “are determined democratically by our delegates and elected leaders” at each year’s general assembly, and so “the officers of the association like myself cannot make decisions on behalf of our congregations”.

At this year’s general assembly in Pittsburgh attendees were required to wear masks at all times and asked to wear a coloured sticker to demonstrate their “personal comfort level with safe distancing”. They were also encouraged to introduce themselves with their pronouns, a “land acknowledgment” — explaining which part of the US they were from and which indigenous group lived on the land before them — and a visual description of themselves for anyone who was visually impaired.

But while some attendees felt this was over the top and performative, they are used to this at the GA. What many were more concerned about was a proposed change to the UUA’s bylaws that they believe will push the church further into illiberalism: over 86 per cent of delegates voted in favour of an amendment to the “Article II” clause that will need just two-thirds approval to be voted through at next year’s GA. This change would scrap the “principles” that have existed in some form since the merged church was founded in 1961 (there are now seven after an extra one, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part”, was added in 1985).

These would be replaced with a set of “values” represented by a flower pattern, with a chalice and the word “LOVE” at the centre and six petals representing the new values. These include a new commitment to “dismantle racism and all forms of systemic oppression”, and a change of wording in the very first principle of Unitarian Universalism. While the old principle said the “inherent worth and dignity of every person” should be affirmed and promoted, the new value says that “every person has the right to flourish with inherent dignity and worthiness” — a subtle but significant change in the language, critics say.

McDonald tells me that the church’s bylaws require it to reconsider and re-evaluate the “core language of [its] faith community” every 15 years, and that change is part of the “living tradition” of the church. He also points out that there is much continuity in the new values. But opposition is strong, and at least two groups have been set up to fight the proposed amendment. Save The 7 Principles is one; the 5th Principle Project another.
Sandra Diaz, who works for the UU church in Boone, North Carolina, on a women’s march in 2019

One of those who attended this year’s GA and voted against the amendment to Article II is Sandra Diaz, who works as the office manager at the UU church in Boone, North Carolina. Diaz, who tells me she is “pretty lefty radical” and organises Black Lives Matter protests, felt that the UUA was not allowing for sufficient critical discussion of the proposed amendment, and so voted against it “as a protest vote”.

“There were so many official representatives wearing the supposedly ‘unofficial’ image of the new principles, but supposedly we were still in the process of deciding,” she says. “I felt so much cognitive dissonance, and wondered if I was being gaslighted.”

She was even more dismayed when she saw the image on the official card she received from the UUA for this year’s “Thanksgrieving” — a term Unitarian Universalists use instead of Thanksgiving because the latter serves as “a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people”. The card “made it seem like the new bylaws are a done deal and if you don’t go along with it, you’re standing in the way”, she says.

Like most religions, the UU church is shrinking, and from a low base: it had 974 congregations at last count and, aware of this, Eklof says he is not aiming to split it into two even smaller religions. But in March, Eklof officially launched a new Unitarian Universalist body: the North American Unitarian Association, which now has more than 700 individual members and four member congregations.

“The NAUA is satisfying my needs for liberal community,” he tells me. “We do the things for ourselves that we expect the UUA to do but that it is no longer doing: providing an open-minded community that allows people with different beliefs and backgrounds to live together peacefully. That’s really what we’re recreating.”

The NAUA is adding about two more members every day, Eklof tells me, holds its own services and education sessions, and has its own monthly newsletter. And not only is it now planning its first general assembly; it is talking with Unitarian churches in other countries about creating a global association.

“I don’t really see it as a rival organisation,” Eklof says. “What I see it as is a necessary organisation.”

Jemima Kelly is an FT columnist


MISTAKES: If my 'facts' are wrong, tell me!  (No need to argue with my opinions, through of course I'd be interested to know yours.)

I am always grateful for errors and other problems when they are pointed out to me. Since I want to be corrected, I assume mostly other people also want mistakes pointed out to them -- so I try to oblige.

I wrote 947 weekly columns for The Kansas City Star, so I had plenty of chances to make factual mistakes. A private mistake is bad enough, but to err in public is an embarrassment for someone expected to be careful and accurate. When I served in the parish ministry, I wanted to be certain about any statements I made from the pulpit. Even when the most accurate thing to say is that we don't know, or the situation is ambiguous or uncertain, that is honest and staight-forward.

In those early days in the parish, folks complimented me about my prayers. My congregation even took out a full-page ad in the local paper to publish one. So I thought I'd compile a selection and mimeo (before photocopiers) of few copies for members of the church. The booklet was entitled, "Prayers, Public and Private." But a failure in proofreading led to
"Prayers, Pubic and Private." Talk about embarrassment. Aggggh!

In my Star column, I once left out a vowel in a word which altered the meaning and embarrassed me with a person involved with what I was writing about. And several times my editors introduced editors to what I had written, once about Cyril, the 9th century Bulgarian theologian who, with his brother Methodius, developed what later became the Cyrillic alphabets. My editor added the dates instead of Cyril of Alexandria (4-5th Century). No one came to my neighborhood to protest the error, but my readers included scholars who knew better. Aggh! Once I wrote about Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 13, which was to be performed locally. I said that the "The work begins with three child-like notes, two B-flats and a G, and a soothing response. Then that pattern is elaborated. Musically, we journey as a child ventures from the parent; and after an exploration, the pattern is fulfilled by returning home to that familiar sound, but we are enlarged by having seen more of the cosmos." My editor changed the "The work begins with three child-like notes, two B-flats and a G," to "The work begins with two B-flats" which evicerates the point I was making. Again, for many musicians, I looked like a fool. Aggh!

I may indeed be a fool, but I don't want tio look like one, so I am very grateful to those who see me goof -- or a goof in my name -- to let me know so I can correct it, or at least not make the same mistake again.

And I will do the same for you if I suspect something may be amiss. Please take it as a compliment that I recognize the importance of your work. And if the "correction" I offer you is based on my misinformation, correct me, please!