Richard Rohr: The Scandal of the Particular

Theologians call the principle of concrete-to-universal knowing “the scandal of particularity.” John Duns Scotus asserted that God only created particulars and individuals, a quality he named “thisness” (haecceity). Thisness grounds the principle of incarnation in the concrete and the specific. You can’t really love universals. It’s hard to love concepts, forces, or ideas. Ideology is just the ego wrapping itself around such abstractions.

Love—God incarnate—always begins with particulars: this woman, this dog, this beetle, this Moses, this Virgin Mary, this Jesus of Nazareth. It is the individual and the concrete that opens the heart space to an I-Thou encounter. Without it there is no true devotion or faith, but only argumentative theories.

Why is “thisness” so good and important? To begin with, such thinking was a breakthrough in the hierarchical Middle Ages, when the top and the center were considered most important. Any writing about a commoner’s life was very rare at that time. The concept of the individual apart from the group had not yet been born, despite Jesus’ talk of leaving the ninety-nine to search for the one (Luke 15:4). Kings and queens, the papacy, the office of the bishop, and nationhood were far more important than anything small, local, immediate, concrete, or specific. “My king is better than your king” and “my religion is the only true one” substituted for personal transformation or the sense that God was engaged with the individual and ordinary soul (which is precisely mysticism). The corporate, collective identity was preferred to a person’s own soul. Without truly seeing and valuing individual lives, war and violence become almost inevitable. Unless we can see and honor “thisness,” religion and politics are up in the head, and the heart and body will remain untouched.

Duns Scotus fully and happily live inside the communal Body of Christ, while still preserving and honoring the importance of the individual. He is an amazing example of bridging the gap. I find it most rare in our postmodern society on both the Left and the Right. He held onto the individual end of the continuum so strongly (almost unheard of in the 13th century) that some churchmen have accused him of actually fathering Western individualism! In truth, Duns Scotus held the entire continuum together—both part and whole—with such refined consciousness that he was very early dubbed “The Subtle Doctor” of the Church. We could use such subtlety today.

Understanding Student Mobbists

My gut reaction is that these student mobbists manage to combine snowflake fragility and lynch mob irrationalism into one perfectly poisonous cocktail.

.. I came of age in the 1980s. In that time, there was an assumption that though the roots of human society were deep in tribalism, over the past 3,000 years we have developed a system of liberal democracy that gloriously transcended it, that put reason, compassion and compromise atop violence and brute force.

.. sophisticated people in those days wanted to be seen, to use Scott Alexander’s term, as mistake theorists. Mistake theorists believe that the world is complicated and most of our troubles are caused by error and incompetence, not by malice or evil intent.

.. Mistake theorists also believe that most social problems are hard and that obvious perfect solutions are scarce. Debate is essential. You bring different perspectives and expertise to the table. You reduce passion and increase learning. Basically, we’re all physicians standing over a patient with a very complex condition and we’re trying to collectively figure out what to do.

.. The idea for decades was that racial justice would come when we reduced individual bigotry — the goal was colorblind individualism. As Nils Gilman argues in The American Interest, that ideal reached its apogee with the election of Barack Obama.

.. But Obama’s election also revealed the limits of that ideal. Now the crucial barriers to racial justice are seen not just as individual, but as structural economic structures, the incarceration crisis, the breakdown of family structure.

.. The second thing that happened was that reason, apparently, ceased to matter. Today’s young people were raised within an educational ideology that taught them that individual reason and emotion were less important than perspectivismwhat perspective you bring as a white man, a black woman, a transgender Mexican, or whatever.

These students were raised with the idea that individual reason is downstream from group identity. Then along came the 2016 election to validate that point of view! If reason and deliberation are central to democracy, how on earth did Donald Trump get elected?

.. If you were born after 1990, it’s not totally shocking that you would see public life as an inevitable war of tribe versus tribe. It’s not surprising that you would become, in Scott Alexander’s terminology, a conflict theorist, not a mistake theorist.

In the conflict theorist worldview, most public problems are caused not by errors or complexity, but by malice and oppression. The powerful few keep everyone else down. The solutions to injustice and suffering are simple and obvious: Defeat the powerful. Passion is more important than reason because the oppressed masses have to mobilize to storm the barricades. Debate is counterproductive because it dilutes passion and sows confusion. Discordant ideas are not there to inform; they are there to provide cover for oppression.

.. So I’d just ask them to take two courses. The first would be in revolutions — the French, Russian, Chinese and all the other ones that unleashed the passion of the mob in an effort to overthrow oppression — and the way they ALL wound up waist deep in blood.

The second would be in constitutionalism. We dump on lawyers, but the law is beautiful, living proof that we can rise above tribalism and force — proof that the edifice of civilizations is a great gift, which our ancestors gave their lives for.

.. Our new generation was never taught how to communicate outside it’s own tribe. And failure to learn how to do that will not bode well for their future or ours.
.. I have spent my entire adult life on college campuses, and I would say that most students do not subscribe to mobbism or tribalism. Alas, I would say apathy is far more common than protest, and that most students are unlikely to know that Christina Hoff Sommers is even speaking on campus, to have an opinion about her ideas, or to attend. I see few protests, flyers, or petitions on campus these days. Instead, I see harried students who work part-time, struggle to pay tuition, and are anxious about landing a decent job when they graduate.

What is a Catholic to make of Jordan Peterson?

Peterson’s idiosyncratic but sympathetic views on Christianity appear to be outgrowths of his ultimately incoherent views about human societies, blending brash political incorrectness with a love of tradition and an enthusiasm for individualism. For modern Christians frustrated by their loss of standing in liberal societies, this makes Peterson, like a stiff cocktail, potent, delicious, and, if enjoyed carelessly or in the wrong context, dangerous.

.. He speaks with a breezy self-assurance, but at the same time he takes serpentine routes to his conclusions – so much so that it’s not always clear even he knows where he’s going until, with a splash, he arrives and all seems to have been made clear.

.. This sense of being on a journey with an unknown destination is heightened by the idiosyncratic nature of his arguments. It’s just weird to get to principled conservatism and appreciation of Scripture from Nietzsche and Jung

.. some – and perhaps a great deal – of what is attracting millions of largely young male viewers to him is not laudable and should not be thoughtlessly applauded by Catholics.

.. Strident denunciations of feminism and anti-racism are not what is missing from our apologetics

.. Jesus Christ is neither politically correct nor incorrect

.. Peterson is at his best and most magnetic when he is almost stammering in awe of the human condition

.. When I hear Peterson speak about God, I think of the late French-American philosopher René Girard.

.. Peterson’s strategy to bring meaning and success to the lives of deracinated young men is an essentially amoral training in interpersonal dominance founded in an uncritical acceptance of the radical individualism that has dominated Western civilisation for the past few centuries.

.. For instance, he argues that the credible threat of violence is essential for earning respect in conversations with men; in one lecture he asserts with his distinctive fatherliness: “If you are not capable of cruelty you are absolutely a victim to anyone who is.”

.. It is true that our present crisis of meaning is related to the inability of many young men to compete effectively in the marketplace, which is for us the primary giver of significance

.. the role of the Church is not to prop up a secular civilisation that has reduced meaning and identity to paychecks and sports teams, but to offer a more beautiful and comprehensive alternative.

.. If the Church is to baptise “Jordan Peterson the internet sensation”, it must be for his reputation as an authentic and awe-filled truth-seeker, not as a politically incorrect provocateur. His sincere reverence for the awesome reality of the human person is a potent antidote for a civilisation whose spirit has been oppressed by secularism and nihilism.

.. striving not for the greatness of alpha status in a world of brutes but for the greatness of communion with the God who is love.

We All Live on Campus Now

When elite universities shift their entire worldview away from liberal education as we have long known it toward the imperatives of an identity-based “social justice” movement, the broader culture is in danger of drifting away from liberal democracy as well.

If elites believe that the core truth of our society is a system of interlocking and oppressive power structures based around immutable characteristics like race or sex or sexual orientation, then sooner rather than later, this will be reflected in our culture at large. What matters most of all in these colleges — your membership in a group that is embedded in a hierarchy of oppression — will soon enough be what matters in the society as a whole.

.. The idea of individual merit — as opposed to various forms of unearned “privilege” — is increasingly suspect.

..  Any differences in outcome for various groups must always be a function of “hate,” rather than a function of nature or choice or freedom or individual agency

.. Polarization has made this worse — because on the left, moderation now seems like a surrender to white nationalism, and because on the right, white identity politics has overwhelmed moderate conservatism.

.. Trump plays a critical role. His crude, bigoted version of identity politics seems to require an equal and opposite reaction.

.. there’s a huge temptation to respond in kind.

.. anger is rarely a good frame of mind to pursue the imperatives of reason, let alone to defend the norms of liberal democracy.

..  Liberals welcome dissent because it’s our surest way to avoid error. Cultural Marxists fear dissent because they believe it can do harm to others’ feelings and help sustain existing identity-based power structures.

..  the impulse to intimidate, vilify, ruin, and abuse a writer for her opinions chills open debate.

.. An entirely intended byproduct of this kind of bullying — and Roiphe is just the latest victim — is silence.

.. only a member of a minority group can speak about racism or homophobia, or that only women can discuss sexual harassment.

.. The only reason this should be the case is if we think someone’s identity is more important than the argument they might want to make

..  left-feminists are not just interested in exposing workplace abuse or punishing sex crimes, but in policing even consensual sex for any hint of patriarchy’s omnipresent threat.

..  In the struggle against patriarchy, a distinction between the public and private makes no sense.

.. There’s a reason that totalitarian states will strip prisoners of their clothing. Left-feminists delight in doing this metaphorically to targeted men — effectively exposing them naked to public ridicule and examination because it both traumatizes the object and more importantly sits out there as a warning to others.

.. Besides, if they’re innocent, they’ll be fine!

.. can anyone justify why the POSSIBLE innocence of men is so much more important than the DEFINITE safety and comfort of women?”

..  we now have a “gender editor” at the New York Times, Jessica Bennett

.. Does she understand that the very word intersectional is a function of neo-Marxist critical race theory? Is this now the guiding philosophy of the paper of record?

.. At The Atlantic, the identity obsession even requires exhaustive analyses of the identity of sources quoted in stories. Ed Yong, a science writer, keeps “a personal list of women and people of color who work in the beats that I usually cover,” so he can make sure that he advances diversity even in his quotes.

..  there is no art that isn’t rooted in identity.

.. I don’t doubt the good intentions of the new identity politics — to expand the opportunities for people previously excluded. I favor a politics that never discriminates against someone for immutable characteristics

.. what we have now is far more than the liberal project of integrating minorities. It comes close to an attack on the liberal project itself. Marxism with a patina of liberalism on top is still Marxism — and it’s as hostile to the idea of a free society as white nationalism is.

.. the core concepts of a liberal society —

  • the individual’s uniqueness,
  • the primacy of reason,
  • the protection of due process,
  • an objective truth

— are so besieged, this is one of the reasons.

.. The goal of our culture now is not the emancipation of the individual from the group, but the permanent definition of the individual by the group. We used to call this bigotry. Now we call it being woke. You see: We are all on campus now.

.. prudence that worries about unintended consequences; that values thrift; that tries to insure itself against future risks; that takes the responsibility of government seriously; that worries about extreme rhetoric; that balances the budget; that insists on constantly taking pains to protect inconvenient constitutional norms; that defends existing institutions. I could go on. It all began with Burke’s recoil from the French Revolution.

.. Is there any institution in the West that is currently less conservative than the GOP?

.. No institution that is integral to our liberal democracy is immune from attack. This includes law enforcement (the FBI), the Justice Department, an independent and free press, the prerogatives of the opposition party, and regular order in the Congress.

It is a party that would impeach a State Supreme Court rather than give up its gerrymandered districts.

.. its cult leader never misses an opportunity to deepen racial divides and to inflame the gender wars.

.. Whatever else this record is, it is an open and outright assault on any concept of prudence, responsibility, or moderation. Which is to say it is an assault on conservatism itself.

.. If there is any future for the conservative soul and mind in America, it will have to start with the wholesale destruction of the current Republican Party. I made that case more than a decade ago now.

The Retreat to Tribalism

He listed some of the reasons centrifugal forces may now exceed centripetal: the loss of the common enemies we had in World War II and the Cold War, an increasingly fragmented media, the radicalization of the Republican Party, and a new form of identity politics, especially on campus.

.. Martin Luther King described segregation and injustice as forces tearing us apart. He appealed to universal principles and our common humanity as ways to heal prejudice and unite the nation. He appealed to common religious principles, the creed of our founding fathers and a common language of love to drive out prejudice.

.. From an identity politics that emphasized our common humanity, we’ve gone to an identity politics that emphasizes having a common enemy. On campus these days, current events are often depicted as pure power struggles — oppressors acting to preserve their privilege over the virtuous oppressed.

.. “A funny thing happens,” Haidt said, “when you take young human beings, whose minds evolved for tribal warfare and us/them thinking, and you fill those minds full of binary dimensions. You tell them that one side in each binary is good and the other is bad. You turn on their ancient tribal circuits, preparing them for battle. Many students find it thrilling; it floods them with a sense of meaning and purpose.”

.. Parties, too, are no longer bound together by creeds but by enemies.

.. King was operating when there was high social trust. He could draw on a biblical metaphysic debated over 3,000 years. He could draw on an American civil religion that had been refined over 300 years.

.. excessive individualism and bad schooling have corroded both of those sources of cohesion.

.. In 1995, the French intellectual Pascal Bruckner published “The Temptation of Innocence,” in which he argued that excessive individualism paradoxically leads to in-group/out-group tribalism.

..  societies like ours, individuals are responsible for their own identity, happiness and success. “Everyone must sell himself as a person in order to be accepted,”

.. The easiest way to do that is to tell a tribal oppressor/oppressed story and build your own innocence on your status as victim. Just about everybody can find a personal victim story. Once you’ve identified your herd’s oppressor — the neoliberal order, the media elite, white males, whatever — your goodness is secure. You have virtue without obligation. Nothing is your fault.

..  “I suffer, therefore I am worthy. … Suffering is analogous to baptism, a dubbing that inducts us into the order of a higher humanity, hoisting us above our peers.”

.. we’ve regressed from a sophisticated moral ethos to a primitive one.

How America’s Charismatic Christianity Helped Fuel the Fantasyland Pesidency of Donald Trump

The United States is suffering through an epistemic crisis. From day to day it seems increasingly difficult to know the truth with real certainty. The nation’s leadership came to power atop a wave of “fake news,” only to appropriate the term and wield it alongside its own “alternative facts.” The official propaganda is further muddled by opposing conspiracy theories, heightened by international intrigues, entangled in the pop culture industry, circulated on social media, and blessed by prominent televangelists. Citizens are divided over their trusted sources, forming rival camps according to which websites they are willing to read and which channels they are willing to watch. Along the way, the possibility of knowledge seems to have fallen into a fog of beliefs.

.. First, the great historian Daniel Boorstin—who I quote in the book—has said that, at the very beginning, Americans self-selected for their belief in advertising. The “New World” was this empty slate being advertised to English settlers, and the people who came over in those first few decades were people who believed the promises when, in fact, there was nothing here. Does that count as credulity? It certainly counts as a wishful pre-disposition to believe.

.. Americans are generally too quick to disbelieve official accounts and too quick to believe alternative theories?

Yes, I think that is precisely correct, and I think it is in large measure a result of the nation having been born of the Enlightenment and of fervent Christianity. These are flipsides, too. This extreme credulity and extreme skepticism are yin and yang, or flipsides of the same coin—the operative word being extreme.

.. the sort of extravagant and flamboyant Christian belief and practice that is virtually unique to this country.

..  in the last couple of decades, one of our major political parties has become explicitly and aggressively Christian in this unique sense. Many of its members believe more and more empirically insupportable things about supernatural interventions in contemporary life, and that then bleeds over into believing things that are untrue outside of the religious realm, as with the claim that climate change is a hoax, for example.

.. It’s in the mix with other forces, such as our over-amped Enlightenment skepticism, our extreme individualism, and even our knack for show business fantasies and our obsession with entertainment.

..  If the religious free market was responsible for such widespread and extreme and fervent beliefs in the United States, then why now, when a very similar degree of freedom exists throughout the developed world, are charismatic churches not popping up in Australia or Canada or Denmark at the rate that they do in the United States?

..  it’s not just the religious free market that makes Americans so religious, but a combination of other character traits.

..  When religious belief relies on a literal reading of scripture as history, suggesting that nothing is a coincidence, that there is a certain grand plan worked out in specific detail—that does correlate with belief in conspiracy theories.

.. So why is it that our most fervently Christian fellow citizens support him so strongly?

.. I think there is something there—it suggests that there are other reasons, cultural and economic reasons,

.. Trump has shown a unique willingness to embrace claims that are demonstrably untrue—that Barack Obama wasn’t born here and a conspiracy covered that up; that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination; that five million illegal immigrants voted against him in the 2016 election; and on and on and on. The fact that he is so indifferent to empirical reality and so willing to stand up and embrace explanations that simply confirm his pre-existing ideas or are convenient for him because they make him seem better or his enemies worse—it’s somewhat unkind, I understand, to say that he shares that tendency with religious people, but I think that is shared.

.. you might identify with a guy who is willing to take strong stands on unprovable claims.

.. As Thomas Jefferson said, basically, “people can believe in 20 gods or no god as long as it doesn’t pick my pocket or break my leg.” That is my live-and-let-live feeling, until it starts having consequential and problematic effects on public policy—until it starts dictating our foreign policy toward Israel or our response to climate change or our public school curricula, for instance. At that point, when clear principles of science are denied, or when important political leaders are making official decisions according to their belief in the imminent return of Christ—that’s when problems arise.

Richard Rohr Meditation: Don’t Co-Exist. Coalesce!

 it’s crucial that we humans make the evolutionary shift from “individuals” to “persons.”

What’s the difference?

We typically use these terms interchangeably, but for Teilhard they denote distinctly different, progressive evolutionary stages. An individual lives as an autonomous unit, subject to the old-order laws of “survival of the fittest” and planetary indifference. A person has come to understand themselves as belonging to greater relational field. They now sense their identity from a sense of wholeness in an entirely different order of coherence: a whole greater than the sum of its parts. In this greater whole both unity and differentiation are preserved; meanwhile the whole begins to be infused by a supremely personal tincture or essence. The universe is no longer random, but a system of relationships to which we all belong and are participating in!

..  As more complex forms emerged in unified units on our planet, consciousness was able to emerge with it. From this we can gather that the future of spirituality will not be found in the “enlightenment” of a select number of individuals, but will arrive through us collectively as a new “unit,” in the emergence of what we might call the mystical body of Christ.