Thirty Theses Looking for a Church Door.

1.The only way to understand my political thinking is to understand its religious roots.

2. I am religious though, not orthodox in any of the great traditions.

3. I am a practicing neo-agnostic Buddhist who follows the interpretations of Stephen Batchellor of that radical strain of the Dharma. I am also a progressive Christian who has been an associate member of the Westar Institute Jesus Seminar since 1995.

4. That is to say I audit respectfully the teachings of Gotama and Yeshua and qualify but do not accept literally the mythic overlays, Christ and Buddha, their followers imposed on them later.

5. In short I attempt to discern the teachings of the two historical figures insofar as that can by meticulous scholarship be uncovered.

6. To that end I follow the scholarship of the Westar Institute to view the new quest for the historical Jesus, as Robert W. Funk characterized it.

7. And the writings of Stephen Batchellor—who uses much the same textual and critical methods for the historical Gotama that the Westar Institute used for the historical Jesus.

8. What are the teachings of these two men that are critical to a social and political life?

9. Emptiness and Compassion. Shunya and Karuna in the Buddhist lineage; Agape and Kenoma in the Christian tradition. Both Gotama and Yeshua taught in that context.

10. Both are rooted in what some understand to be a rigorous, this-worldly, secularity. Both men emphasized how one was to live, not what to believe. That requires us to focus on reason and evidence however they become enlarged philosophically and religiously.

11. The word Emptiness (Void) in the practice is multivalent and complex. One very important part of it is the understanding that language and the concepts and ideologies are without ontological content. They are arbitrary linguistic conventions that have been agreed upon by collective humans that have a certain strategic utility but without metaphysical content.

12. Language is empty. Concepts are empty. Ideologies and doctrines are empty. They are intellectual traps. That is not to say, however, that they are not useful. Scientific theory is very useful.

13, Therefore, one of this disposition must be rigorously skeptical of all concepts, doctrines, and ideologies, whether right or left, conservative or radical—to regard them critically, however existentially useful they may be. And to be vigilant against them where they have hardened into fanatical zeal. The economic and religious fundamentalist and the politically correct liberal deserve our cautious assessment.

14. When one resists habitual ways of thinking, one occupies for a moment a neutral mental space wherein it is possible to become pragmatic and creative.

15. One is not allowed then to indulge oneself in what can be called Kamikaze politics that for the sake of radical theory supports losing causes endlessly. In Madison during one campaign rally some years ago, for example, could be seen a cohort marching and bearing a placard: Vote Kerry, Think Green.

16. Emptiness implies pragmatism, the use of evidence and reason as well as the creative responses of art and parable.

17. A progressive Christian and a neo-agnostic Buddhist is one who accepts the stricture of evidence and reason—science. One of the scholars of the Jesus Seminar, Bernard Brandon Scott, publicly announced: “Science is our first Magisterium.” Stephen Batchellor’s rigorous historical and textual analysis of the early Pali texts follows that epistemological path.

18. Moreover it becomes clear that doctrines and ideologies are traps. If one can, however briefly, through mindfulness, free oneself of habitual thinking, one first becomes compassionate regarding oneself as trapped, and to see how so many are trapped in that Middle Passage with no horizon or light visible.

19. Compassion, Karuna, Agape, in this classical sense is very far from carrying the sometimes sentimental overtones of the word ‘love.’ This Agape, as Karen Armstrong once put it, contains the almost legalistic desire for the other to have the same advantages you yourself have, caring for the welfare of the neighbor as you care for your own. One doesn’t even have to like the neighbor to hold to that. The neighbor can even be a hated Samaritan.

20. To mindfully attack one’s own traps is to desire to free oneself and by extension others from those traps. The Bodhisattva refuses full enlightenment until he has freed all sentient beings. Kierkegaard’s Knight of Faith works quietly to bring salvation to all. This must be done through meditative practice on oneself and mindfully helping others one at a time and gradually to liberation.

21. Gotama, after Ananda catechized him rigorously, admitted that all humans, including women, could be stream enterers—all were Buddha, awake—and challenged the hierarchical pattern of the society of his time. His was a reform of the Hinduism of his time.

22. Yeshua,  told stories of how all, everyone was invited to the feast, the open table and thus proclaimed a Kingdom in which a radical egalitarianism (everyone, inflating Chalcedon, is the Christ!) became a direct threat to the brutal hierarchy of the Empire of his time. There would be no difference between Tiberius and the meanest slave in his Empire in that Kingdom. Yeshua, was executed by that state for that idea.

23. If all are eligible to feast at the same table, if all are stream-enterers, all are Buddha and Christ, that the few, in practice, hog most of the food and that a privileged few castes have a monopoly that brokers the benefits of the spirit between themselves and all the rest, requires action on many fronts Not as a liberal, a libertarian or radical—those are an ideologies. But in some patient step by step course of action that brings the oppressed to the table, the spiritually hungry to fulfillment.

24. Otherwise one must resort to violence—our own Civil War however necessary and irrepressible is still being fought in our bitterly divided country one hundred and fifty two years after Appomattox. Whereas now more and more Americans are slowly becoming more and more mindfully reasonable about many heretofore settled issues. The sure tolerant acceptance of the equality of women, blacks, hispanics, gays on many levels slowly progresses.

25. So one defines oneself not as a liberal but as a pragmatically rational and compassionate independent—grounded in the perception of the heart of radical egalitarianism but equally in evidence and reason. There is some evidence in our own culture in the growth of the Nones, the Independents and our current protest movement against a minority president that reason and evidence is becoming even for us an important magisterium.

26. The pragmatically and rational compassionate independent can entertain every radical agenda that desires to solve all the wickedness of the contemporary situation as an ultimate goal, but takes realistic if modest and patient steps within the choices one actually has, step by step, toward those goals. Vote Hilary, Think Green.

27. Those choices include: demonstration, agitation, teaching, working, voting, protesting, getting elected to local office. Campaigning for the best choice you have to take another step toward your ultimate agenda.

28. Always compassionate not only for the disadvantaged and the harassed among our brothers and sisters, our children, but for the earth, the planet and its animal and vegetable life that supports and enhances life as a whole.

29. For social progress happens in the context of health and security. Economic and political fairness plays a great role in the success of rational and compassionate policy.

30. It can be done: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland and parts of northern Europe are years ahead of us. These are not perfect social orders. Given cranky, alienated, wicked human nature there is no such thing. We work toward the right, leaning to the light. It’s constant work.

Othello, Iago., and Trump


Act 3 Scene 3

Iago: Ha! I like not that.

Othello: What dost thou say?

Iago: Nothing, my lord:or if—I know not what.

Othello: Was not that Cassio parted from my wife?

Iago: Cassio, my lord! No, sure I cannot think it that he would steal away so guilty-like, seeing you coming.

Othello: I do believe ’twas he.

In this brief scene Iago sets the ground that eventually causes Othello’s fatal jealous rage against his wife, Desdemona, that at the end of the play results in her murder by his hand.

Iago’s villainy seems groundless. At every turn, by reinterpreting perfectly sensible and innocent actions as sinister, he eventually destroys his target. After having killed his wife, Othello collapses and dies.

Iago embodies unanchored reason who regards evidence as his plaything. It is all the Fake News that he can shape to his own ends.

Eventually the facts catch up to him.

Trump’s inauguration crowd was smaller than Obama’s. There is no national emergency for lack of a Wall. Climate change is real and caused by human action and supported overwhelmingly by science. The children of the world, our kids, demonstrate. It’s their world, their future.

The evidence is catching up to our President Iago, who has told over 9,000 lies so far, and counting.Othello dies. Iago has killed him. Trump will lose the presidency in 2020. Iago is jailed. 

How Our Present Situation Echoes Lear

How Our Present Situation Echoes Lear

Okay, students, open your books to Shakespeare’s Lear, Act I Scene 1. Pay attention:

The story is familiar. The tragic premise is an old man’s insistence of the alteration of the realm and the delegation of his royal power, that his underlings compete with each other in the extravagant expression of their loyalty and love for him. Some, sensibly, realistically, refuse to join in this ridiculous game and resign in protest.

Unhappy that we are, they say, We cannot heave our hearts into our mouths: We are loyal to your power according to our Oaths; no more nor less.

Lear, angry at this response, asks them to mend their behavior  a little for the sake of show (which they refused to do). Then the old man, in his rage, banishes his Lawyer and, heretofore, the most loyal of his retainers. 

Lear, expects a continuance of his royal privileges, but, little by little, has his retainers and therefore his power stripped from him.   Great numbers of his resign or are fired. Or betray him. He is left alone, raging against nature itself in his twitters for the plight he finds himself in. He becomes an unaccomodated man, stripped of power, naked in a hostile country, advised his naked clowns, a madman in a storm, fantastically garlanded, reduced to eating snared cheeseburgers raw.

If Lear does not know what has happened to him, the audience does. We know every terrible step of the way what has happened to the old Ruler.  Where old men should be wise, venerated, and die, in proper sequence, he is old and a fool. He suffers abuse and rejection by his people. We watch this. The pity and terror of it. We know.

When the story is done, we are not only purged, we are somehow uplifted. 

Because the royal house is invaded from the outside, and adults fill the room.

But for Lear, it is too late. The course of a corrupt life is revealed. All has failed him. He is told but does not hear: 

Thou shouldst not have been old before thou hadst been wise.

We have seen the emptiness and the pointlessness of a ruler’s rage, his threats, knowing he could have ruled in a prosperous kingdom had he not acted like a damned old fool. An upwelling of compassion occurs for him. 

The Old Man is defeated. 

But the Nation will survive.