Lesson 27- Brain, Knights and the Impossible Dream
In my last program I was making the point that “eternal rest” may not be the heavenly state that we all think we desire. Rather, it may be “eternal involvement” in the work of the Creator. It is interesting to note that these two different perspectives of happiness or heaven correspond to the right and left hemispheres of our brains and also to the basic differences between Eastern religions and philosophies and Western religions and philosophies.
In a previous series of talks I gave a detailed description of what modern brain researchers have discovered about the right and left hemispheres of our brains and the many implications that it has for understanding God, our religion, and ourselves. Suffice it to say that our right hemisphere, like both hemispheres in animals, is non-verbal, existential, non-judgmental, amoral, and cyclical in its outlook. In humans, it is a creative, artistic genius that thinks holistically in pictures and communicates non-verbally through facial expressions, verbal tones, body postures, and all of the art forms, such as music, dance, sculpture, painting etc… It is subjective and oriented towards what is beautiful and holistic. It see the “big pictures” and is probably related to “meaning” through which, like a puzzle, we connect and unite all of the different parts of reality into a holistic picture.
Lacking language, our right hemisphere is unable to separate the different components of reality into logical categories by naming them. Thus, from its perspective reality is either a state of Oneness or No-thingness since, without language, one thing can’t be separated from another thing by giving them separate names, such as chair, table, wall, rug etc... Therefore, its view is existential since reality just “IS” and it has no purpose or direction beyond that. And, without a purpose or direction, there is no basis for judgment since all directions are equally good and valid. And, since morality is to choose between what is good or bad, without unequal choices, there is no morality. And since sin comes from a Greek word used by archers that means to “miss the target”, without a purpose or target, there is no sin. This being the case, in its existential world, life would be non-progressive and cyclical, symbolized by a circle, indicating the repetition of existing patterns. Being the source of Art, its attitude is expressed by a billboard in London showing an artist’s easel, paints, and brushes which stated “There are no rules!” and that is why the artist and censors are constantly in conflict.
It is interesting to note that in describing the right hemisphere of our brain, I have also described the attitudes of Eastern religions and philosophies. Eastern religions emphasize the Oneness of all things and speak of heaven as Nirvana which is a state of Nothingness where our individual existence disappears and we are reabsorbed into the Godhead from which we sprung. In fact, according to them, we never really existed as individuals because everything, including ourselves, is just an extension and manifestation of God. They believe that there is no one truth or right way but many truths and ways that are equally good and the symbol for life is a repeating circle. Progress and “free will”, according to them, are illusion because the more things change, the more they remain the same and any attempt to change what has already been ordained through Fate or Karma is not only a waste of time but an offence against the universe. Thus, our attitude should be to “accept things as they are” because we are mere puppets in God’s drama who must play our roles whether we like it or not.
This attitude was expressed in a recent movie, Slumdog Millionaire, which won an Academy Award. Throughout the movie, which involves poverty, degradation, mutilation of children, crime, betrayal, and success, the theme is “It is written.” In other words, Fate or Karma is directing everyone’s life and whether you were one of the children who was turned into a beggar by having your eyes removed or the winner of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”, it was foreordained to happen and there was nothing that anybody could do to change it.
The left hemisphere of our brains, which is the major difference between us and animals, is verbal, developmental, judgmental, moral and linear. Its perspective of reality is that everything is different and it separates reality by naming its components. According to it, things exist for a logical purpose and therefore it is judgmental concerning whether things are serving their proper purpose. Thus, it is moral because it believes that virtue is “right use” and vice is “wrong use” and that we sin when we “miss the rational target” of the Creator. Because its moral attitude is goal directed, it is linear and progressive in it outlook and views reality as a developing line moving from an Alpha Point to an Omega Point and that through our use of “free will” we can either delay or advance reality towards this goal. Thus, there is one truth and right way and many wrong ones in relationship to this goal.
Eastern religions speak of heaven in term of absorption. To them we are like a glass of water that is poured into a soup, representing God. When the soup is stirred our identity disappears and we become united with the soup. Western religions, like Judaism and Christianity, speak of heaven in relational terms where we maintain our own identity and choose to form a loving relationship with God. Their concept could be compared to us being a potato placed in a soup, representing God. Although we are united with the soup, we still maintain our own identity.
The Old Testament’s word for hell, Gehenna , means “empty thought” or a state of Nothingness, which is the Eastern religion’s concept of heaven. Our individual existence is not an illusion, as Eastern religions believe. And, since things have a logical purpose, there is a right way and wrong ways to use them. When we use them in the right way, reality progresses towards its ultimate goal. When we use them in the wrong way, reality regresses. Thus, according to the Judeo/Christian/Linear/Utopian Concept of History, reality and history involve a developmental line that is progressing towards an Omega Point. This developmental process out of Gehenna, the world of “No-thingness” or “empty thought”, is being led by the left side of the brain, which is Jesus, the Logos or Logic of God that St. John says is found in every person and the source of logic, science, and technology. As a seeker of the Truth, who is Jesus, its goal is to lead us out of the Kingdom of Mental Darkness, or Gehenna, into the Kingdom of Mental Light.
This attitude is expressed in plays and movies, like Man of LaMancha, based on Cervantes “Don Quixote”, which tell of an old, foolish knight who “Dreams the Impossible Dream” of changing the world from “what it is” to what “it ought to be.” Just listen to the words, and think of Jesus and the Kingdom of God, and you will see why Cervantes meant Quixote to be a symbol for Christ and Christians in general.
To dream the impossible dream; to fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow; to run where the brave dare not go.
To right the unrightable wrong; to love pure and chaste from afar.
To try when your arms are too weary to reach the unreachable star.
This is my quest to follow that star no matter how hopeless no matter how far.
To fight for the right without question or pause.
To be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause.
And I know if I only be true to this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I’m laid to my rest.
And the world will be better for this that one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable star.
And that is what the Judeo/Christian/Linear/Utopian/Concept of History is all about. As Christians we are called to be Gentle Revolutionaries who have a vision of “what the world ought to be” that motivates us to constantly struggle towards establishing God’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven”. Like Robert Kennedy we should say, “Some people look at “the world as it is” and say ‘Why?”… I look at “the world as it ought to be” and say ‘Why not’?”
By doing so, we become Sons and Daughters of God who, as members of the negentropic forces in the universe, enter the struggle against the entropic forces that are pulling it down towards chaos. The world we know is falling apart as God allows the logical consequences of our foolish behavior to chastise us. The old wine is ready to be replaced with new wine and, as the scriptures, say, “you can’t put new wine into old wine skins or they will burst.” Thus, we must go through a major “paradigm shift” by reevaluating and rethinking how we should respond to the challenges of life. St. Paul says, “The whole creation groans like a woman in childbirth awaiting the revelations of the (children) of God.”
May I suggest that our present crises could be either the dying throes of a civilization that has lost it way or the pangs of birth announcing a new creation. It all depends on how we respond. Do we have a revelations that the whole creation groans to hear? Or are we a people without a vision who are floundering around in a meaningless and directionless existential world? The Bible says “Without a vision, the people perish!” So let me continue with my input into what, as Catholics, our vision should be.
I have already suggested that the parish should be a cell in the Body of Christ that, by living a life that is counter-culture to the world around it, is “in the world” but “not of it.” In order to do this, it must act as a community with a shared vision and shared resources. By doing so, it become a “light unto the world” that is preaching the gospels more through its example than through its words. Its guiding principle should be to “let its motives be loving and its methods be wise.” The goal of the community is to encourage all of its members to experience the “fullness of life” by using the crosses and difficulties of life as opportunities to reveal and develop hidden potentials. When these crosses and difficulties become more than a person can reasonably handle then, according to the Principle of Subsidiarity, the family or parish community should, like Simon the Cyrene with Jesus, render necessary assistance. However, the goal is always the growth and development of the individual towards self-determination, which is the true goal of freedom. In words and actions, the parish community should speak and act in unison with the Church and each other thereby multiplying their impact in political and social matters.
Thus, the first step in our reformation of the world is to regain this vision of an organized community with the common goal of changing the world from “what it is” to “what it ought to be.” And, once we regain this vision, the next practical step is to act upon it by learning the practice of “self-taxation.” I have already spoken on the issue of tithing and how, if practiced by a community, it could generate a pool of financial resources that could be used to the benefit of its members.
First, I want to emphasize that when I suggested tithing to the Church, I am not speaking of the rectory or the convent, although they would have a share in it. I am speaking of the Church, in Vatican II’s terminology, which emphasized that “WE”, along with those with religious vocations, are the Church. Therefore, since, like the Mormons, these pooled resource would be available not only for the social needs of the community but also to generate more resources through profit-making ventures, there should be a Parish Council composed of elected leaders who are knowledgeable and honest. And, of course, like any organization, safeguards would have to be created to make sure they are.
If freedom and democracy are good, and that is our presumption as a nation, then the more people are free and have a say in what affects them, the better the results. However, may I suggest that the major flaw in this is that freedom without competency is meaningless and the larger the population involved, the less legitimate are the results.
We take great pride in the fact that we get to elect so many of the people who are suppose to represent us in making important decisions that will affect us. But, may I suggest, that this is more illusion than fact. In order for any choice to be valid, the person making the choice has to have the knowledge and competency to make the choice. For example, because of our conviction that freedom and democracy are so valuable that everybody should have them, we have declared ourselves the leaders of the free world and have used our influence and power to establish them elsewhere in the world. Thus, we entered Vietnam, and more recently Iraq and Afghanistan, with the goal of bringing their people the blessings of freedom and democracy. Midway through the Vietnamese War, to justify our commitment to these goals, we held national elections for the Vietnamese people. The problem was that in the rural areas, many of the people couldn’t read or write and had no access to television or radio. Thus they were unable to read, hear, or see what the major candidates were proposing and, even if they could, they were simple farmers who had little knowledge of the issues being debated. Since they could not read, each candidate picked an animal to represent their candidacy on the ballot. Guess what happened? That’s right. Most, if not all of them, voted for their favorite animal. It would be funny except for the fact that our soldiers were dying for their right to make a meaningless choice. However, before we take a smug attitude towards these illiterate Vietnamese peasants, consider that something very similar happens here.
Every election involves numerous candidates for various positions. Often the electorate barely know the candidates or the function and qualifications for the position they seek. Thus, when they enter the polling booth, they are only slightly more informed than the Vietnamese peasants and they resort to a similar tactic. Either they vote a straight ticket for the Democratic or Republican Party or they use some variable about the candidates with which they can identify. He’s Irish and I’m Irish. She’s Black and I’m Black. He’s a Catholic and I’m a Catholic. How valid can a voters choice be when he is asked to vote for the Comptroller of a city, when he doesn’t know what a Comptroller does or the qualifications of any of the candidates? His vote is almost as meaningless as the Vietnamese peasant’s.
As a results our elections campaigns have evolved into multi-million dollar 30-second sound bites by opposing candidates charging each other with incompetency or dishonesty. In the end, for minor candidates, such as judges for local courts, it is name-recognition that often counts and personal persona for major candidates, such as mayors, governors, and presidents. My point is that much of what we praise about the glories of democracy in our country is a sham when it involves an uninformed electorate voting for unknown candidates running for positions whose functions and qualifications are barely known. The only valid choices are those in which the chooser has a personal interest and competency. For example, my high school students are perfectly capable of choosing class officers and prom queens from candidates that they know personally but totally incapable of choosing a Comptroller for the city. The problem is that we don’t fully understand freedom.
Eric Fromm in his book, Escape From Freedom, pointed out that freedom should be viewed from two perspectives: “freedom from”, which is the permission to do something, and “freedom to” which is the ability to do it. Fromm, taking his clue from the development of the child in the womb, observed that before the child can be “free from” its dependency on his mother’s womb, he had to develop the necessary abilities to be “free to” perform these functions for himself. Thus, he concluded, in all proper development, “freedom to”, the ability, has to precede “freedom from”, the permission. Otherwise, when faced with the problem of being given the “permission” to do something that we are incapable of doing, it creates in us anxiety, and we will psychologically seeks to “escape from freedom” by giving responsibility for our lives over to someone who seems more competent. In other words, it’s what Will Durant, the historian, noted when he said, “When freedom destroys order, the need for order will destroy freedom.” What we really seek is a “free order but if we have to choose between them, we will choose order over freedom.
But, on the other hand, when a person has the ability to do something, he will eventually demand the permission to do it. For example, once a child knows how to take care of himself, he will insist on the freedom to do it. We call it rebellion. He calls it freedom. It seems to be a natural law that life develops from dependency to independency. Thus, if Eric Fromm is right, you can’t give people more freedom than they can handle nor can you deny them less freedom than their capabilities warrant. For a fuller explanation of Fromm’s theory go to Logic-Psychology .com where you will find the audio and text of my original series which can be listen to, read, or downloaded for free.
In fact, real freedom can’t be given to another group or person because it grows from the inside as the people abilities increase to the point where “other control” is replaced by “self control.” That is true not only in our relationship to other people but also in our relationship to God. In the Old Testament the emphasis is on Law, which is “other control” that enforces itself through threats of punishment or promises of reward. The Law is seen as restrictive and designed for the benefit of God. Then we mature to the New Testament where the emphasis is on freedom, in which the threat of punishment or the promise of reward disappears because we now understand that what the Law required was for our own benefit and we have internalized it into our being. In other words, as the Bible says, we have reached the point where God has written the law on our hearts and it has become an integral part of our being. Nothing has changed except our attitude. What was once seen as external and restrictive has now become internal and fulfilling. And how was this done? Wisdom and understanding has replaced foolishness and ignorance. Or, as St. John put it in John1:17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” And need I remind you that Jesus is the Word, Logos, or Divine Wisdom who created the universe and all of its laws.”
Freedom and democracy may not be all that they are “cracked-up” to be. Yet, freedom, according to the scriptures, is our ultimate goal. If that is true, then the only road to true freedom is to grow in competency, which is “freedom to”, and to grow in competency is to face and overcome the difficulties and crosses of life. As one sage put it, “Whatever doesn’t kill us, strengthens us.” So Jesus was right. “If you want life and you want it fully,” which I assume means to grow in competency and freedom, “pick up your cross and follow me.” And this is where the Principle of Subsidiarity comes in. Whoever assumes responsibility for a problem grows in competency and freedom, while whoever avoids it remains incompetent and dependent. It’s the law of life and whoever fails to follow it is choosing the death of their real self which exists as the hidden potentials that can be revealed only by responding to the challenges and crosses of life. Thus, the real road to freedom is to find our level of competency where we can truly exercise our talents.
So, just as my high school students are competent to make valid decisions concerning things that affect them personally and directly, so too a parish community has the ability to make meaningful decisions involving the parish. I am not suggesting that this involves doctrinal matters since, according to the Principle of Subsidiarity, that is the level of responsibility that belongs to the Pope and Magisterium of the Church. We have already seen the divisive results when every group or person becomes their own Pope or Magisterium. Rather, I am talking about the practical needs of any community that has united for the mutual benefit of its members. Thus, the parish is the cell, the diocese or Archdiocese is the organ, and the universal Church is the Body of Christ and, according to the Principle of Subsidiarity, each, while interacting with the others, has a proper level of operation. And it is in the parish, because of its size and closeness to the problem, that true democracy can be exercise.
So let me return to the details in the operation of the parish community by returning to the issue of “self taxation” and the establishment of a “capital pool” for the benefit of the community.
In previous programs I have already outlined the results that a tithing community would experience. I used as my model my parish, which has 4800 families. Let me review some of the results.
First. If those 4800 families had an average income of $40,000 and they tithed ten percent, or $4,000 to a common pool, it would generate $19,200,000 a year.
Second. If the same parish were to self-insure their homes for $1000 a year, it would add an additional $4,800,000. Insurance, which was invented by the churches, is one of the most profitable ways to generate a capital pool, which then can be invested in other profit making enterprises.
Third. Other types of insurance such as life, and car insurance could also be considered. The profitability of an insurance agency is greatly affected by insurance fraud. Unfortunately, there are people who make fraudulent claims which, eventually, affect the rates of other members. Thus, the pool of those insured greatly affect the rates that are charged. For example, in Philadelphia, where there are many accidents, often involving uninsured drivers, the rates are much higher than other areas where there are fewer accidents involving insured drivers. If an insurance company contained a pool of Christ-minded drivers who were honest, responsible drivers, its rates would be much lower and its profits much higher. And, the same is true of life and other types of insurance. In a previous program I mentioned that the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization, is one of the highest rated insurance companies in the country. This is what an encyclopedic article has to say about it.
“The Knights of Columbus is the world's largest Catholic fraternal service organization. Founded in the United States in 1882, it is named in honor of Christopher Columbus.
(It)…was founded by an Irish-American Catholic priest, The Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney in New Haven, Connecticut. He gathered a group of men from St. Mary's parish for an organizational meeting on October 2, 1881 and the Order was incorporated under the laws of the U.S. state of Connecticut on March 29, 1882. Though the first councils were all in (Connectilcut), the Order spread throughout New England and the United States in subsequent years.
The primary motivation for the Order was to be a mutual benefit society. As a parish priest in an immigrant community, Fr. McGivney saw what could happen to a family when the breadwinner died and wanted to provide insurance to care for the widows and orphans left behind… In the late 19th century, Catholics were regularly excluded from labor unions and other organizations that provided social services. In addition, Catholics were either barred from many of the popular fraternal organizations, or, as in the case of Freemasonry, forbidden from joining by the Catholic Church itself. McGivney wished to provide them an alternative. He also believed that Catholicism and fraternalism were not incompatible and wished to found a society that would encourage men to be proud of their American-Catholic heritage.
There are more than 1.7 million members in 14,000 councils, with nearly 200 councils on college campuses. Membership is limited to "practical Catholic" men aged 18 or older.
In the 2007 fraternal year the Order gave US$144,911,781 directly to charity… and performed over 68,695,768 man hours of voluntary service. For their support for the Church and local communities, as well as for their philanthropic efforts, the Order often refers to itself as the "strong right arm of the Church" . The Order's insurance program has more than $60 billion of life insurance policies in force and holds the highest insurance ratings given by A. M. Best, Standard & Poor's, and the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association.”
Are you getting the picture? Our immigrant forebearers acted as a “people set apart” because they were due to religious and ethnic prejudices. As a result, they had to create their own resources and that is why they created institutions, like banks and insurance companies, for the benefit of their members. For example, the Beneficial Saving Fund was created by St. John Neumann, who as a bishop responded to the needs of his immigrant parishioners who were often rejected by the local banks. And, as we have just heard, the Knights of Columbus was instituted by a priest for the same reason. Today, however, we are suffering the same fate as the Hebrew people who, being warned by God through their prophets, to avoid being integrated into the ways of their pagan neighbors, began to follow their false gods. In like manner, we no longer have to deal with the institutionalized anti-Catholicism of our ancestors and, like other minorities, are now accepted by the larger society. However, instead of being a leaven to them by transforming them towards Catholic/Christian attitudes and principles, it appears that the larger society has been a leaven to us by transforming us into their way of thinking. And now we are reaping what we, in cooperation with them, have sown. Its time for us to return to basics by realizing, as our ancestors, did that all Christians are strangers in a foreign land whose values are at odds with their major societies. Once we realize this, then we, like our ancestors, will become a counter-culture that, based on Wisdom, will be a light to those in the world who, like the Ancient Romans, became disillusioned and disgusted with the direction of their society and yearned for a new direction. So, as the hymn, City of God, says:
Awake from your slumber; Arise from your sleep.
A new day is dawning for all those who weep.
The people in Darkness have seen a great Light.
The Lord of our longing has conquered the night.
Let us build the city of God, may our tears be turned into dancing.
For the Lord, our Light and our Love
Has turned the night into day.
How shall we do this? In a previous program I said that the problem with many utopian thinkers is that they strayed too far from reality and failed to understand what people really want or are willing to do. Therefore, when we try to think of ways of improving the world, we must test our plans against reality to see if experience confirms what we are attempting to do. We are humans, not angels, and therefore, although a few saintly people may be able and willing to reach heavenly standards, we must focus on what is feasible for mere human beings who want to serve God in their daily lives. Often all it involves is to tweak things that the world is already doing by giving it a Christian perspective. People save, invest, buy insurance, join cooperative organization, work towards mutual goals, form communities, contribute to charities, create schools and social agencies, organize businesses, etc… These are not utopian ideas. They are real and part of our everyday lives. The question is can we tweak them so that they become part of our spiritual growth and Christian vision? But that will have to wait for my next program, because I see that my time is up.